The Cowell Chronicles: Separating Fact From Fantasy

Is he in or out? What we know for sure in the “American Idol” judge saga

When it comes to Simon Cowell, those who cannot remember the past are apparently doomed to report it — over and over again.

While most Americans are happily spending this holiday week visiting with relatives or downing too much egg nog, the international entertainment news media have decided that it’s once again time to be begin obsessing over the future of Cowell and "American Idol."

Even though there’s not actually any real, hard news to report (yet), the breathless reports keep coming, each more definitive than the last.

Last week, for example, The Times of London confidently declared that Cowell had "sealed his status as the ultimate ‘X Factor’ winner through a series of deals worth tens of millions of pounds." He was considering "standing down" as a judge on "Idol" and would instead focus on bring an "Idol"-like singing competition called "The X Factor" to the U.S. via Fox.

(This contradicted a November report that Cowell was actually planning to launch "X Factor" as a web series via a Las Vegas-based show, but we digress…).

There was also the hot revelation that Cowell’s brother had confirmed his snarky sibling’s "Idol" exit. And today came the breaking news alert that — shocker! — Fox will try to keep "Idol" on the air even if Cowell leaves.

So what do we know for sure?

–Cowell has been negotiating a new deal with Fox for months, if not longer. Multiple parties, including Sony, are involved.

–Cowell wants to bring "The X Factor" to the States. Fox isn’t crazy about messing with the "Idol" franchise, but it’s willing to give the "X" format a try if it means keeping Cowell happy.

– Cowell might cut back his role on "Idol" or leave the show altogether after the 2010 season in order to do so.

–Whatever scenario plays out, Cowell will make tons and tons of money.

–There’s virtually no chance in hell that "American Idol" will disappear from TV anytime soon.

–None of these possibilities have been locked in stone, at least according to people familiar with the talks. Any reports definitively declaring that all the details have been hammered out are likely incorrect– even though elements of what’s been reported may very well come true.

–While past reports have claimed that Cowell’s deal was moments away from being announced, it does seem likely — but not certain — that we may finally be near the end game. There’s enough heat around the rumors now that an announcement next month wouldn’t be surprising.

As for the rest of what’s been reported in recent days? Like just about everything else in TV during December, it’s a repeat.

Consider that in April, Cowell told told London’s Daily Mirror that he was mulling making the 2010 edition of "Idol" his last.

“When I signed the latest extension on ‘Idol’ through next season, it felt like that was going to be the right amount of time,” Cowell told the tabloid “It still feels right.”

That story was followed weeks later by a big New York Times article in which Cowell once again said he might leave the show. That report also mentioned the "X Factor" factor.

But wait: In August, the Hollywood Reporter flatly stated that, "Simon Cowell will be a judge on ‘American Idol’ for at least three more seasons." It said the host was finalizing a deal with Fox to do just that.

In September, the same publication said the new deal was actually only for two more years of "Idol" but that it included provisions allowing "X" to come to the U.S. Cowell’s involvement in "X" hadn’t been determined, THR said.

Given "Idol’s" status as America’s No. 1 show, and Cowell’s superstar status in the UK, it’s no surprise that reporters everywhere want to stay on top of this story. It seems likely that the "Idol" status quo is about to be interrupted, and if it is, that will be an important story indeed.

But it would be nice if we could all just chill a bit and just wait until something actually, really, truly is decided and confirmed.

Naive? Probably. But hey, it’s the holidays: We’re all allowed to dream a little this time of year.