Simon Cowell quits American Idol to launch US version of The X Factor

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Simon Cowell is to leave American Idol at the end of the this season and has struck a deal to take The X Factor to Rupert Murdoch's Fox TV.

Cowell's contract will expire after the ninth run of the top-rating American Idol, which has made household names of contestants including Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, with an American version of X Factor due to air in time for the 2011 season.

Although he earns a reported $36m a year for judging American Idol – and is regarded as a linchpin of the show – the franchise is owned not by him but by Simon Fuller, and Cowell been vocal about his desire to cash in on the opportunity of launching The X Factor in the USA. At least one benefit will be the ability to take a larger slice of the the resulting music sales revenue, which is likely to be very large.

The X Factor will air in the US in autumn, to keep it away from American Idol, which dominates Fox's schedules in the spring.

"We reached an agreement formally this morning," Cowell said at a press conference in Los Angeles yesterday. "What we have agreed is that The X Factor will launch in America in 2011 with me judging the show and executive producing. Because of that, this will be my last season on American Idol this year.

"I was offered a lot of money to stay on but that wasn't the reason behind it," he said at the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, California. "I wanted to do something different. I wanted a new challenge."

One report has tipped Cheryl Cole, a judge alongside Cowell on the UK version of The X Factor, to join him on the judging panel of the US version.

Cowell is keen to keep appearing on the UK version of The X Factor, as well as Britain's Got Talent, although ITV might be forced to reschedule one or both of the two shows. Britain's Got Talent, on which Cowell is a judge, airs in spring. The X Factor has traditionally aired in the UK in autumn, the same time of year that the US version will occupy from 2011. ITV is understood to be looking at a number of options to deal with the clash, one of which would be to move it to spring.

ITV and Cowell are known to be in "well advanced discussions" about him continuing to appear on The X Factor in the UK.

A spokesman for ITV said: "We are absolutely planning for The X Factor to return this autumn and next year with Simon Cowell in both an on-screen and production role."

It is expected that Cowell will want a few key executives from the British version, possibly executive producers Richard Holloway and Andrew Llinares to assist on the US version, but as the programme is 18 months away no decision has been made.

Sony struck a five-year deal in late 2005 for the rights to The X Factor.

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Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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