Will Young recalls standing up to Simon Cowell: ‘I really disliked him’

‘He needed to be put in his place,’ recalled Young

Ellie Muir
Wednesday 24 April 2024 00:01 BST
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Will Young has reflected on the moment he stood up to Simon Cowell while competing on Pop Idol.

Appearing on Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail podcast, Young was quizzed about the moment he called out Cowell for the judge’s scathing remarks during a performance on the show in 2002.

Young, then 22, performed a rendition of The Doors’s “Light My Fire” on the first ever series of the singing competition.

Cowell called the performance “distinctly average”, and Young took the opportunity to call out the judge’s track record of giving aspiring singers brutal feedback.

Reflecting on that moment, Young said he knew he wanted to stand up to Cowell.

“I thought if you get a moment then people will remember you,” he said. “And then I also knew that I really disliked that man. And I’d met him before on the This Morning boy band competition.”

“And I remember thinking I really don’t like that man, and I went to a school where I was surrounded by … quite unpleasant men. So, my radar for people who I perceive as unpleasant is quite on. And I just want to be careful.

Will Young on ‘Pop Idol’
Will Young on ‘Pop Idol’ (ITV2)

“I’m not saying that he’s abusive, but my radar is pretty good. So my reaction was on live TV when I came across him.

Young added that he thought Cowell needed to be “put in his place”.

“Because I had to sit and watch him make people cry for weeks, building up to my live performance in front of him,” he continued. “And I just thought, ‘no one’s telling this man. Why is no one telling him?’ And so I was like, ‘I’m going to tell him.’”

Young thought Cowell needed to be ‘put in his place’
Young thought Cowell needed to be ‘put in his place’ (Getty Images)

“I think people in the music industry, entertainment industry… play on people’s desire. Your desire is going to make you do anything,” he added.

Young recalled that he had “already had my first bout of depression” by the time of the incident, which affected his handling of the situation.

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“I’d lost someone close to me. I knew a bit of life. It wasn’t the be all and end all,” he said. “And so. I didn’t care about letting someone like him get away with it. Whereas I think lots of people in subsequent programs, I think there has been some awful behaviour actually, which is pretty well documented.”

At the time, Cowell watched Young’s performance and told him: “I’ve got a vision of Sunday lunch and after Sunday lunch you say in front of your family ‘I’m now going to sing a song for you’… Distinctly average, I’m afraid.”

Cowell said Young’s performance was ‘distinctly average’
Cowell said Young’s performance was ‘distinctly average’ (ITV2)

Young told Cowell that he often “projected insults” onto contestants.

“All of us have been dying to say things to you – I’ve written about ten things to say to you,” the singer said. “I think it’s nice that you have given opinions on this show. I think in previous shows you haven’t, you’ve just projected insults and it has been terrible to watch. I think, this show, I think you have been better, and I think you have given opinions and you’ve backed up your opinions.”

“It is your opinion. I don’t agree with it. I don’t think it was average. I don’t think you could ever call that average. But it is your opinion and I respect that.”

Cowell backed down and replied: "You are a gentleman, sir."

How to Fail with Elizabeth Day is available wherever you get your podcasts.

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