Dave Karger
March 25, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Now that we’re just days away from the first round of auditions, how nervous are you?
I’m nervous and confident at the same time. If I can’t find a star out of this process, the whole thing’s been a complete waste of time. You’ve just got to hope that the right person shows up.

You snagged Island Def Jam chairman Antonio ”L.A.” Reid as one of your judges. The guy wasn’t exactly flipping burgers at McDonald’s. How did you lure him in?
We spoke about it about a year ago. He said, ”Is it definitely true you’re going to bring the show over to America? I want to be a part of it.” I said, ”Well, you can’t, because you work for the opposition.” He said, ”What if I was out of my deal?” I said, ”That’s a whole different story.” This went to the wire, but once he’d made up his mind, then it all happened quite quickly in the last week.

NBC is also launching The Voice, another singing competition. Are you at all worried that we’ll reach a saturation point here?
No, I expected it. [On The Voice] the judges turn their backs to the contestants. It’s kind of a strange time to be doing a show like that when image is becoming increasingly important.

But when The Voice got Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera as judges, did it make you want to raise your game in choosing yours?
I could see where this was heading. It was: Who’s got the biggest celebrity on their panel? But I’ve never approached it that way. My first requirement is that the person knows what they’re talking about. There was word out that I had offered Cee Lo the job and he turned me down. I met Cee Lo and liked him, but I never offered him a job.

On the most recent X Factor season in the U.K., you put five solo auditioners together into an instant boy band. Would you do the same here?
If we think three solo artists are better as a group and they want to, we’ll probably do that. It’s interesting that the most popular pop group in America right now is the cast of Glee, which somebody put together. In a way, they’ve reinvented pop music. I think it’s astonishing that there isn’t a new *NSYNC. There’s a massive market out there for a group.

You’ve been very kind in the press to Idol this season. Where’s the cutthroat Simon we used to know?
I didn’t want to get into this ”I hate you, you hate me, and we’re in competition.” Because the truth is we’re not. They’re on January till May, and I’m on September till December. You do hope that you’re going to do better. I wouldn’t be making this show if I thought it would do worse.

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