Simon Cowell on Not Having a Phone for 3 Years and the Future of 'AGT' in Quarantine (Exclusive)
By Antoinette Bueno
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Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, Simon Cowell doesn't regret choosing to not have a cell phone.
ET's Kevin Frazier spoke with the America's Got Talent judge ahead of the show's premiere on Tuesday night on NBC, and he talked about how he's been doing in quarantine. Cowell said it's been the longest stretch of time he's been home and acknowledged that at first it was difficult since he hasn't had a phone in three years.
"It's very simple," Cowell tells ET of the surprising choice. "It means you don't wake up to, like, 50 text messages you can't reply to. And that's what happened one morning -- I woke up and I've got 52 unread messages. And I thought, even if I reply to every one of those, I'm going to get another replying back, and then I'm going to get more that day. And I realized it was actually stopping me from working or living properly, so I just turned it off and I went a month, three months, then a year, then two years, then three years. And I love it."
"Even if you limit it, you know, you don't want your telephone to rule your life," he adds. "And I find ... when you're in a meeting or you're having a conversation or you're at dinner and someone's reading whatever they're reading on their phone, it's like we're not engaging anymore."
Cowell said he has still been communicating with others amid such a difficult time through Zoom.
"I think it's really, really important during this process to keep your mind active, stay positive," he says. "Do whatever you can do to help people who need help at this time. And just pray for this to be over. I mean, the one good thing, if there is any one good thing, is that we're -- I think most of the country has probably got the best air quality we've ever ever had. I mean, it is truly amazing."
The 60-year-old reality show judge also shared how he's been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic when it comes to his 6-year-old son, Eric, whom he shares with his girlfriend, Lauren Silverman.
"We never have the news playing in the house, number one," he reveals. "So whatever we need to talk about, you know, we shield it. We keep him away from this because at six years old, you know, look -- it's hard for all of us. But for someone that age, for any parent, I think we'd all feel the same way. You try and protect your kids through this process. But I mean, having this time with him and seeing that he's still getting schooled, etcetera, I said this many times, we're all in this together. And you know, the appreciation for the people out there who are risking their lives on the front line. You know, that's where your thoughts go. I mean, it is quite remarkable."
America's Got Talent, of course, has also had to make major adjustments amid the global health crisis. For the first time ever, the show has been taping without a live audience and some contestants had to audition remotely. Still, Cowell says the changes haven't affected the high quality of the show.
"The mindset was ... where we can, we've gotta try to see as many people as possible, and then by day 11, we just went OK, it really, really isn't safe now for the crew, anyone who auditions, so we stopped that and then we started doing some remote auditions like we're talking now, which was interesting," Cowell explains. "The good news is, we did see a lot of people, so it hasn't affected the overall quality of the talent. We still found some amazing people as we do every year. I think you'll see on episode one, it's jam-packed full of the most amazing people, the most amazing stories, and I think the team, bearing in mind how they've had to do it remotely, have done an amazing job."
Cowell says he and the America's Got Talent team are still thinking of innovative ways to film the show as everyone continues to practice social distancing. But he does assure viewers that there will be a winner at the end of the season.
"I mean, I don't think we're gonna be at the Dolby Theatre with 3,000 people," he says about no longer having a live audience. "I don't think that is gonna happen this year, so we've come up with about three different creative ideas about how we can make the live shows work but not feel as if scale and everything else connected with the show is lost. It will look different but I think if we go with the plan I personally love, it will look different, but it will still give every act the opportunity to shine as they normally do in the finals because I am aware particularly this year, you know, anyone who makes the top 10 because it can change their lives. They're gonna need this more than ever, so whatever we're gonna need to do, we will get to the end of the finals this year. There will be a winner and we'll make sure no one's compromised, you know, through the process."
"I've missed Heidi, I'm gonna be honest with you, but she came, it was like ... there hadn't been a separation, you know?" he notes. "We just picked up where we were before. Sofia was terrified before she came on, you know, we had a couple phone calls ... 'Simon, how can I judge all these people?' And I went, 'You know what? Just go with your gut feeling, you know, no one can be an expert on everything. You're gonna see every possible kind of act in the world, just go with your gut feeling.' That's I think one of the reasons why she wanted to do it, and then after 10, 15 minutes, day one, she turned around to me and said, 'I think this is my favorite job I've ever done,' so she really did enjoy the process, which was great."
ET spoke with Vergara in March about joining America's Got Talent and she admitted that she was hesitant to take the gig when she was first approached with the opportunity.
"I never, in my life, expected to do something like this," she told ET. "I've never done anything like this. I [was like], 'Wait, I have to think about this, I don't know if I can, you know, be a good judge or whatever.' And the more I thought about it, I thought, 'You know what? This actually sounds like a group of people that I could be part of.'"