May 24, 2007 -- Although Jordin Sparks took home the "American Idol" title and a $1 million record deal last night, controversial judge Simon Cowell believed finalist Melinda Doolittle should have taken home the crown.
"I said Melinda should've won," he said. "She tried the hardest, was consistently the best, and had the best voice."
The usually cocky Cowell wondered if for once even he was too outspoken.
"I think about it now, whether I should've endorsed her as much as I should've done," he said. "I think it was the right thing to do."
Still, Cowell wasn't surprised that Sparks won out over runner-up Blake Lewis.
"Jordin was the most improved over the whole season -- didn't start the best, but midway through this was the girl who suddenly got momentum," Cowell said of Wednesday night's winner. "Young girl, likeable, and the singer won over the entertainer [Lewis]."
Of all the seasons' contestants, Cowell said he believed Kelly Clarkson was the best singer.
"We got so lucky with Kelly Clarkson -- season one -- because she's not just a great 'American Idol' winner. She's up there now with some of the great singers in the world," he said. "I mean, I think she's as good as someone like Celine Dion. I think she really is that good."
Cowell threatened to leave if Sanjaya Malikar won.
"Well, I would've asked to leave, yeah. I don't think that they would've let me leave, but I would've wanted to leave," he said.
"Because I couldn't have gone into 'American Idol' seven saying, 'Are you as good as the winner of 'American Idol' six, Sanjaya?'" he said. "I mean, the whole thing would've been a joke because he just couldn't sing very well."
One controversy still has Cowell fuming: the night he appeared to roll his eyes when a contestant paid tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre.
"Just thinking about it now makes me very, very angry," he said.
Bloggers ranted that Cowell's gesture was disrespectful. But the next night, "American Idol" went so far as to broadcast unaired footage showing that Cowell didn't hear the tribute because he was talking to Paula Abdul.
"And I saw some of these stories on the Internet that night, and I thought, you are making this worse, and you've got people, you know, whose sons and daughters have died," he said. "I have never been so upset over anything in my life."
As for his reputation as the man that Americans love to hate, Cowell won't apologize.
"I can't sit there and pretend to like somebody when I don't," he said. If you do, "then you're not judging. You're just being political, or you're doing this because you want people to like you."
Cowell said people stop him on the street to critique them as potential "Idols."
"They don't want to be critiqued in a good way, funny enough. I mean, if someone does sing to me I always go, 'Wonderful. Fantastic,' and then they're disappointed," he said. "They actually want me to be, to be rude to them. … I don't know what it is. It's like, sort of, a badge of honor, I guess, you know."
Despite his reputation for rudeness, Cowell maintains he's doing something positive for "Idol" wannabes.
"Even when I'm, what could be perceived, as being rude to somebody on the show, I honestly think I'm doing them a favor by saying, 'Forget it! It's never gonna happen in a million years. Now do something in your life which you're going to be good at,'" he said.
Could Cowell even save Britney Spears' foundering career?
"Only Britney can save her career. Britney is still one of the most talked about pop stars on the planet. She has the X factor, people want to write about her, and she's not conventional, and she's not normal. She can't handle the tension and the pressure," he said. "My advice to her six months ago was to go home to your family, lock the door, don't go out with your stupid friends, have some home-cooked food. Get a sense of reality. Go and lie in the garden, OK?"
"And then say to yourself there's more good in my life than bad. I'm still a rich, talented girl and now I want to get my career back on track. End of story."
If the judges Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, and host Ryan Seacrest were a family, they'd be a dysfunctional one, Cowell said.
"Randy is my slightly older brother. Paula is my precocious younger sister, and Ryan is my younger brother, who I quite like, but isn't mature enough yet to hang out with me," he said.
Although they spar onstage, the competition between Seacrest and Cowell is really about getting attention.
"It's a question of outdoing each other, because Ryan basically controls the show where he sits or where he stands. He's able to go into a break, to cut me off, and direct the show. And he's always trying to do things where I've got nothing to say in response," he said. "That's what he just gets a kick out of. And he's just trying to get more attention than I am."