"American Idol" is the number one show on television, andone of its judges — sharp-tongued Brit Simon Cowell — is living the American dream. Some estimates put his wealth at more than $80 million.
He's known as Mr. Nasty, the "Idol" judge everyone loves to hate. He’s raked in millions for critiquing — and often times criticizing — contestants. And many tune in just to see what Simon says.
He has undoubtedly helped make the show a huge success. In some ways, Cowell is an unlikely success story: a high school dropout, broke at age 30. But 16 years later he's one of the most influential people in reality TV.
"He's definitely an American success story,” said Katrina Szish, an editor with US Weekly. “It seems that everything he touches not only turns to gold but platinum."
Cowell is said to earn about $36 million a year for dishing it out on "Idol." The show, now in its fifth season, continues to be a big draw for Fox and its advertisers — who aren't shy about spending when it comes to reaching the show's 30 million viewers.
"American Idol" has commanded the highest asking price for a 30-second commercial in the history of American television. For a regular season, it was going for over $700,000," said Karen McCallum, a media supervisor for Esparaza Magazine.
Industry insiders say Simon's opinions are a huge part of that draw.
"He actually tells the truth,” said Szish. “He doesn’t give anybody false hope about a singing career. And he's really right on the money."
On the money and cashing in. Even without "Idol," his record label sells millions. He oversees recording artists both in America and across the pond. He's also got a dozen other TV shows in the works and one already on the air: "American Inventor" on ABC.
Cowell's latest venture is called "America's Got Talent," a summer series for NBC hosted by Regis Philbin. Simon says it's a talent-variety show that's open to almost anyone and there are no rules.
"It's the greatest talent search ever attempted in history," he said.
And although he won't be judging the show, Simon is hoping for a big hit on NBC and yet another big payday.
Simon's family members are also cashing in on his success. His brother Tony wrote "The Simon Cowell Book of Nasty Comments" — for those who haven’t gotten their fill of "Simonisms" on "American Idol."