He’s long been revered as one of the most influential men in music. But last week, Simon Cowell’s reign as top dog of the pop charts was seriously threatened after a number of former X Factor stars lashed out at the show and their former boss, with allegations of exploitation and bullying.
And it was singing twins Jedward leading the charge, launching a Twitter tirade in which they called Simon the “Mafia leader” of the music industry, and claimed they were seeking “justice” for One Direction and Little Mix.
“Every contestant on The X Factor was a slave to the show and got paid zero while they [industry bigwigs] made millions!” they tweeted.
As heat went to press, Simon had yet to respond – but we’re told the attack didn’t go down well, and he’s been trying to contain the fallout by calling in favours – starting with Cheryl.
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“Simon’s team are holding crisis talks,” says an insider close to the music mogul, who launched the careers of Little Mix and One Direction (he later parted company with both). “He’s absolutely reeling and is worried that more acts could speak out, even though he offered them an opportunity for fame and gave them unparalleled exposure on the show.
“He’s called in Cheryl for a bit of support and is hoping she’ll speak up for him should he need her to. He’s also thinking of getting in touch with Liam [Payne, Cheryl’s ex], as he’s worried that members of 1D could also start turning their backs on him publicly.”
We all know that it takes a lot to rattle Mr Cowell, but our source says that last week’s allegations did. And it’s no surprise, seeing as Jedward weren’t alone. Their claims of exploitation were echoed by former contestant Cher Lloyd, who told fans, “They [record executives] sold me the dream just to exploit me.”
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Another contestant from the same series as Cher, Rebecca Ferguson, recently demanded a parliamentary inquiry into the music industry and called for greater regulation against “bullying” agents and managers, while former X Factor winner Matt Cardle has said the show “used people” and argued it was a “miracle” that not more tragedies had occurred as a result.
Jedward may have been the only ones to slam Simon personally – and even shared a message they’d received from 1D’s Louis Tomlinson, joking that they’d “lost the plot” – but that hasn’t stopped Simon feeling the heat.
“Simon has been genuinely blindsided. He feels heartbroken and betrayed,” says our source. “The music industry is tough, but he didn’t invent the rules, and he doesn’t feel like he should be made to look like the bad guy. He’s worried that his legacy is at stake.”
Read more in the latest issue of heat magazine – OUT NOW.