Clash of the egos: Simon Cowell & Ryan Seacrest

Clash of the egos Simon Cowell &amp Ryan Seacrest

Clash of the egos Simon Cowell &amp Ryan Seacrest

Q.  Hi Patrick.  So you saw the show?

Patrick Wanis:  Yes. And I wanted to begin by adding some info that I wrote about Simon Cowell last year around his 50th birthday

Q.  Oh, really?

Patrick Wanis:  Yeah, in the Globe, I was talking about him still being like a little boy who never got that real approval or acceptance.

Just days before his 50th birthday, Simon Cowell wrote his younger self a letter, like a long letter.  Do you remember that?

Q.  No.  Vaguely, yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  Well, he wrote himself a long letter and he describes himself in his 30s and early 40s as “shallow, reckless and cocky.”  In the letter which he published online,  he wrote to himself “You feel that everyone is laughing at you behind your back… Do you want to know something Simon? That’s because they are?”  And he wrote that about something that happened a long time ago, back in the 80s.

He also wrote about being this little kid that is “peering over a garden wall.” There was a next door neighbor, a movie bigwig, who had a party featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and Simon Cowell was sort of wishing to himself, “I want to be like that.  I want to be at that party.”  And then, of course, when he turns 50, he brags about his star studded party.

Q.  Right.

Patrick Wanis:  And I’m giving you that background to say that Simon Cowell is a guy who definitely has a very powerful ego, who’s almost narcissistic.  Deep down he wants everyone to love and accept him, to approve him, to be accepted by the celebrities. And the way that he responds to people with his harsh criticism is also the way that he responds to himself:  He’s very critical of himself; very, very critical of himself because deeper inside, there’s insecurity and a feeling that he’s not good enough. And, he covers it by attacking everyone else.

When someone is so cocky and arrogant on the outside, it really comes from a place of insecurity inside. And there is a difference between confidence and arrogance.  He has an outward confidence, but really it’s more about arrogance.  And arrogance always comes from, “I’m better than you,” and underneath that is, “I’m really not good enough.”

In the magazine, I was quoted as summing up Simon Cowell: “His grandiose behavior belies the fact, that he’s an insecure man who is consumed with self-loathing, not satisfied with what he has achieved, and will never be happy as long as he measures himself by external accomplishments…He was most likely harshly condemned, criticized and judged as a child, and that’s how he treats others – and himself.”

Q.  And, you know, he does seem kind of defensive…

Patrick Wanis:  Because he’s insecure.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  Did you notice what happened?  When Ryan approaches him, this is the first time that you see Simon Cowell actually become smaller.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  I mean the very first time, he pushes his chair back.  He rolls his chair back because he’s trying to say, “Hey, you’re getting too close to me.”  But he’s actually moving away from him rather than standing up to him.

Now if that was me and you’re getting in my face, I’m going to stand up and say, “I beg your pardon.”  But he’s actually backing off, which is very, very interesting.  In the second interaction though, he’s standing his ground.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  He’s thought about it and he responds with “No, you know, I’m not going to let you do this.”  And that’s when he says, “Do you want to continue eyeballing me?”  and “You don’t cross the line.”

And Simon Cowell does have great skills in terms of how to just cut someone down when he smartly and first says to Ryan Seacrest, “We’re friends,” and he shakes his hand.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  It is almost calculated. For example, it is almost guaranteed that if you and I shake hands, then there is little chance that we will next have a fist fight.  Do you understand what I’m just saying?

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  If we shake hands, there’s very little chance that we’re going to hit each other.  So he’s a very smart guy.  When he reaches out to Ryan and shakes his hand and says to him, “We’re friends, aren’t weWe have known each other a long time,” he goes, “Yeah.”  And then he says to him, “Don’t ever do this again…”

Q.  Right.

Patrick Wanis:  “…don’t cross this line.”  I mean he handled it very well, but, yeah, I do agree with you that Simon Cowell backed down, in the first time.

Q.  Yeah.  And that is so unusual for him and especially when it’s coming against the guy who he’s often mocked for being effeminate; Cowell has made part of his career on mocking him.

Patrick Wanis:  Well, yeah, I think there’s a lot of tension between them for another reason that a lot of people haven’t picked.  They’re very similar.  They’re very similar! They’re very strong people.  They are very open with their words.  I mean Ryan is open.  Ryan does give you the sense that he actually cares.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  Simon doesn’t.  You know, Ryan has that sense of compassion.  I mean he comes down and he says to Simon, “Hey, I’m trying to help this guy.”  I don’t know how real that is.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  When I first watched that I thought to myself, “Is this being staged?”  There was something that just wasn’t right.  Now, whether that’s just because we’re used to seeing them be so smooth or whether it was almost staged, but there was something that just didn’t feel right.  It didn’t feel right, and maybe, again, that might be simply because it’s not something we’re used to seeing.

Q.  Right.

Patrick Wanis:  I kept looking at their faces trying to work out, is this real or is it just the both of them realized how uncomfortable the situation is that they both created, although Ryan really instigated it.

But I do think they have a lot in common.  They’re very strong and they’re both very powerful people in the media.  Ryan Seacrest is the next Dick Clark.

Q.  Right.

Patrick Wanis:  And if he is not careful in the way he handles himself, he’ll become the next Simon Cowell, in terms of the way he responds to people.  I think what you’re also saying is Ryan Seacrest’s power is building and building.  And with that power, comes a lot more confidence, the boundaries become much wider, meaning he doesn’t see boundaries because he’s powerful and that’s why he can go and approach Simon Cowell and say, “No, I don’t agree with you.”

Q.  And you also think that there was a power play on his part in that sense?

Patrick Wanis:  Yeah, there was definitely a power play between the both of them, and I think that’s been brewing.  And, again, the point I’m making here is that it’s not just from the power that Ryan has in American Idol.

It’s the power that he has in the media, the power that he has in music.  I mean he hosts – you know, he hosts his own radio show and he’s often hosting various segments on TV.  He’s a very powerful guy and he recognizes that and if Ryan’s not careful, that can also go to his head.

Q.  The other thing when you talked about the hand shake and the eyeballing, you know, kind of the things that you said, what was interesting to me was the comment Cowell said, “Are you auditioning for my job?”

Patrick Wanis:  Yeah.

Q.  It was kind of the first time that Simon, A, has made a nod that, in fact, he’s leaving the show, but, B, it almost seemed like he was daring him to do so.

Patrick Wanis:  Well, I think that that’s sort of more the typical male ego that says, “Hey, if you think you can do better than me, try out.”  I think that’s part of it.  That’s part of his response.  There might also have been a suggestion like, “Hey, I’m leaving this.  Do you want to take this over?” knowing that no one’s going to be another Simon Cowell, and I think Simon knows that.  Simon’s trying to say, “You know, you’re auditioning for my job,” right?  And it was also his way of mocking him.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  Simon was mocking, because Simon knows underneath that Simon is not a guy that’s going to be easily replaced.  If you had someone come on and be mean like Simon is and be cold and sometimes nasty, people would just say, “Oh, he’s trying to copy Simon.”

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  Simon did it naturally.  That’s who he is, that’s who his he’s always been.  So, yeah, I think he was more saying to him, “You know, you cannot do what I do.  You’re not as good as me.”  And it was also the way of saying, “You think you can do better than me?  No, I don’t think so.”

Q.  And so with this kind of thing, you know, I guess what’s interesting or what was unusual to me about it is, here, you have these two guys doing it at the top of the show, twice, in a very uncomfortable way.  That’s not a really good television either.

Patrick Wanis:  Well, there’s two different you just said.  One, it’s definitely uncomfortable.  Second, is it good television?  I think you’ll find that the producers of the show would think that it is good television because they know that they’ve got to hold on to ratings.  There’s been a lot of concern about Ellen’s role and what she’s bringing to Idol.

And you know the show has been around for a long time and they want to make sure that it does stay.  So what do you need to do to keep people talking about it?  You’ve got to come up with something.  You’ve got to create some sort of controversy, some point of interest.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  …so that people are saying, “Hey, let’s go on YouTube.  Let’s watch the video.  Let’s watch the playback.  I want to see what happened between them because I missed it.”

Is it a good thing?  No, it’s not a good thing at all.  Is it good television?  Possibly, yes, it is; only good television in the sense that it creates controversy; it gets people talking about it the next morning at work, around the cooler, as they say, around the water machine.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  It gets people talking about in conversation.  It raises the level of interest and energy around the show.  Is it a good thing for them?  No, I don’t think it’s a good thing for them.  And that’s why there is still a part of me that wonders, “Was this staged or is it really two huge egos clashing?”  And it might be a combination of both.

Q.  Right.

Patrick Wanis:  But Simon was very strong in the way when he says it to Ryan Seacrest “Back off.”  And he said it a couple of times, which tells me that although you couldn’t see it on camera, Ryan Seacrest held his gaze at Simon Cowell, and he held it for a long time.  And that’s why Simon was talking and he says, “Back off.  Stop eyeballing me.”

So Ryan wasn’t backing down.  And I think that’s what really made Simon Cowell uncomfortable because he’s not used to anyone standing up to him.  And it’s almost like Ryan is trying to take the place of Paula Abdul.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  You know Paula was the nice, compassionate one.  Ellen Degeneres can’t be that because she doesn’t have that level of confidence and familiarity within the team.  But Paula had been around.  She was, you know, always close to Simon.  So she could say to Simon, “No, you’re being mean.”  But when Ryan does it, it really is out of place.  He’s meant to be the completely impartial host.  He’s not the judge.

Q.  And one of the other things I was going to ask you: I was looking at that footage – I’m no body language expert, but certainly, Cowell seemed very strange; usually, he seems very kind of confident in the way he’s sitting and his posture.  But he definitely seemed a little on his guard, almost like he was bracing for some kind of confrontation.

Patrick Wanis:  Altercation.  You’re definitely right.  Simon was uncomfortable and he said it both times.  He said it in the first interaction.  He said, “This is uncomfortable.”  And in the second time, he repeated that word again.  Because for him, it is very uncomfortable, because no one challenges him or if they do, you and I don’t get to see it.

Q.  Right.

Patrick Wanis:  It’s done behind doors somewhere and, obviously, by someone who’s in a very high position. This was uncomfortable for him because no one challenges him.  He’s being challenged not only on national television, but on his show.

Q.  You’re right.

Patrick Wanis:  This is the difference.  Simon Cowell, it’s his show and he’s saying, “You’re screwing with me.  You’re challenging me.  You’re pushing me.  You’re trying to talk down to me?”  The first time, he backs off because he was really stunned and he pushes his chair away.

The second time, he doesn’t move his position although you’ll notice and if I was to play back the video now…

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  …he turns his body away from him.

Q.  Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s funny because I think you’re right.  I mean I think in the second one, he kind of told him, “Hey, that’s enough.”  But he also did kind of turn his shoulders almost.

Patrick Wanis:  Let me watch the video again…hold on a sec…

Patrick Wanis:  Ellen never looks comfortable on the show.

Q.  No, she’s got problems.

Patrick Wanis:  Now, let’s see what he says with Simon.  See, he’s already sarcastic when he says…

Q.  Right.

Patrick Wanis:  …”The very sweet…”  He’s already attacking it.  He hadn’t let go over it.  And Simon’s not turning all the way to him.  Ryan’s very confrontational.  He’s being almost.  Ryan is being very condescending to Simon Cowell.

Q.  Yeah, I know.  It’s the, “No, I love it,” thing that Ryan says to Cowell.

Patrick Wanis:  You know what it is? This is the first time that Ryan had Simon in control.  Ryan is controlling him.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  Ryan says, “Okay.  Now, can we do this?” and he’s telling Simon what to do.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  Simon doesn’t like that.  Simon’s not used to that.  And then Ryan walks away because Simon got him.

Q.  Right.  Simon takes control of it and says, you know…

Patrick Wanis:  Yeah.

Q.  …”stop the eyeballing…”

Patrick Wanis:  And Ryan becomes very uncomfortable.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  Right.  When Cowell says to him, “Just keep practicing the eyeballing,” and then I think he says, “Back off.”  I want to get those words on.  Hold on one second because there’s something really powerful here.  Now, Ryan feels uncomfortable.  And someone says, “Back off,” and I don’t know who’s that.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  Hold on.  Oh, it was Randy…

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  …who then said, “Back off.”  So Randy agreed with Simon.  I think that’s important because Randy agreed and recognized that Ryan was wrong.

Q.  Right.  It was awkward in television.

Patrick Wanis:  He was awkward in television.  And here’s where I may agree to you that it’s not good television…

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  …when it takes our attention away from the artists and the purpose of the show.

Q.  Yeah, and that’s kind of what I was saying.  You know, it just killed the momentum of the show.

Patrick Wanis:  Well, I agreed it look, it’s bad television because it’s taking attention away from what the show is all about, which is about the art, the music…

Q.  Right.

Patrick Wanis:  …the singing, the performing.  It’s good television because it creates controversy…

Q.  Right.

Patrick Wanis:  …and that’s why we’re talking about it.  I just want to come back to that last point when he finally says to him, “And just keep that eyeballing,” you’ll notice that in that moment, Ryan Seacrest has just been cut down, and what he does with his body, he literally steps away from – to the side, away from Simon Cowell and has this very uncomfortable laughter. And his arms move, it’s almost like, “You’ve just made a fool of me,” as he steps away.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  And the fact that he’s stepping away is because he’s realizing, “I’ve been cut down.”  He doesn’t confront Cowell and he doesn’t just back away.  He steps away and you can see this and feel this in his uncomfortable voice, in the way that he sort of laughs.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  His whole response is, “You’ve just cut me down. I feel stupid.”

Q.  Right.  Well, this is great, Patrick.  Thank you for talking to me.  I really appreciate it.

Patrick Wanis:  You’re welcome.

Also read the MTV article about Seacrest and Cowell here:

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