Nicole Scherzinger (L), L.A. Reid (C), and Paula Abdul, judges on new talent show “The X Factor.” (FRED PROUSER/REUTERS)

It’s now a $5 million cash prize – plus a recording contract.

Appearing via satellite at Summer TV Press Tour 2011, Simon also announced the winner of the competition, which premieres on Fox next month, would star in a Pepsi commercial on the Super Bowl which, Simon gushed, “is unbelievable!”

We’re not sure why, given that Pepsi is the soft-drink sponsor of “X Factor” and has long been an advertiser in the Super Bowl broadcast and its Pepsi MAX brand is currently the official soft drink of the NFL.

Anyway, Simon appeared super-impressed: “It's something they gave Michael Jackson! Beyonce! Britney Spears! It's a money-can't-buy prize!" he gushed, all the way from where ever he was.

The $5 million cash prize came as news to Pepsi, which, in its official Super Bowl-ad announcement, noted that the winner’s ad, “in addition to the previously announced $5 million recording contract with Sony Music/Syco,” make this “the most lucrative prize package in television history.”

It also came as news to “X Factor” judge and recording-industry bigwig L.A. Reid. When a TV critic, giving voice to America’s dubiousness, said he was “curious what goes into a $5 million recording contract”  -- like a detective questioning some rat of the underworld as to where he was on the night of July 13th -- Reid began to tap dance:

“First of all there are recording costs.”

“There are cash advances.”

“It’s the cost of the campaign -- ”

Simon Cowell, one of the judges on new reality series 'The X Factor' is shown on a large screen as he speaks via satellite.. (FRED PROUSER/REUTERS)

Simon was asked if he thought he could beat “American Idol.”

You don’t get into this racket to win the silver medal, Simon snarked.

He insisted he’s not making a conscious effort to make “X Factor” really mean because last season’s first Cowell-less season of “American Idol” went all cuddly and nurturing with the addition of Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler as judges.

“We didn’t make an intentional effort to be mean. That’ just us,” Simon said. “Contestants are mean to us and sometimes we can be harsh back.”

The lower age limit on his show is 12 years old – younger than “Idol” because, while a few years ago 12-year-olds sang “Good Ship Lollipop” now they’re “very cool and very switched on.” In fact, he said, the youngest auditioners were “more lippy than any other contestants I’ve ever met in my life.”

This series, unlike “Idol” has no upper age limit and the derby is open to solo singers and musical groups.

Simon confirmed he is trying to get Mariah Carey on the show in some capacity “but then she selfishly got pregnant which is why she didn’t end up as a judge.”

That’s what Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly, in the Q&A session that followed, called Simon’s “dark charm” adding admiringly, “you can’t resist him.”

In fact, Fox can’t. He’s too big a part of the network’s effort to become a ratings player in the fourth quarter – a time of year in which the network has traditionally struggled with its regular series.

At the start of his Q&A session, Simon, via satellite, said, “I can’t hear the applause.” Upon which Fox staffers in the back of the Beverly Hills Hilton ballroom began to applaud madly, like their livelihoods depended on it.

Anyway, about half way through the Q&A, Simon was cut off by the show’s gorgeously attired, super-slick British host Steve Jones, who said, “I’m taking this puppy from here, ladies and gents.”

“I know there’s a lot of speculation as to where Simon is. He’s in one of three places:

*His lair on the moon

*Aboard a death star


*At the ball pit of Chuck E. Cheese.”

Paula Abdul (Frederick M. Brown/GETTY IMAGES)

It was at this point that Reid, and the show’s other judges, had walked out on stage and joined in the fun. Paula Abdul did the Runway Walk in sparkly Louboutins.  Nicole Scherzinger, former Pussycat Doll, did not. Fox network’s head of reality programming, Mike Darnell, came to contribute that “it’s pixie dust” gag he always uses when talking about his shows.

Whenever Nicole or Paula tried to answer a question directed to them, Simon would start making the “blah, blah, blah” sign with one of his hands, or cut them off with some snarky comment. He didn’t touch Reid however. On the other hand, Reid mostly kept his mouth shut after being made to look foolish over the whole $5 million dollar recording contract thing.

Paula on being back on show with Simon: “It's nice to be back in a demented relationship. It's like home.”

Simon: “It's like ‘The Exorcist 2’."

“It’s like Mummy and Daddy had a trial separation but now they’re back together,” Slick Stevie tried to jump in.  But the TV critics and reporters, having decided to ignore him, did.