Shirley Halperin
January 09, 2008 AT 12:00 PM EST

So just how long does Simon Cowell plan to be a fixture on American Idol? The surly judge addressed his future with the show on a conference call today, telling reporters he

finds the audition process to be “absolute torture,” and hinting that he may

be hitting the road once his contract expires in two years.

“The public eventually are gonna get sick to death of me. Nine years is

probably enough to inflict on anyone. Can the show exist without me?

Absolutely. It would probably get better.”

Cowell also spoke about Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard, and Katharine McPhee no longer having record deals. “It’s a reflection on the unpredictability of the record business. Fortunately, we got it right more than we got it wrong…. There’s no scientific way to explain what happens. It’s a reality show and what happens at the end is also reality.” He used the same theory to explain lackluster sales by the most recent winner and runner-up, Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis. “Naturally, I’m disappointed that they didn’t sell more copies or that neither artist has caught on fire,” he said. “What you want [is] a Carrie [Underwood], Daughtry or Kelly Clarkson, where they’re competing with the Mariahs. It didn’t happen. Am I surprised? Not particularly…. The public decided it’s not necessarily what they wanted, so we have to try to do better this year.”

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