How Simon Cowell Has Softened Up on TV: 'You Understand How You'd Feel If It Was Your Son Up There'

Cowell's son is the reason behind his softened up television demeanor

Photo: Art Streiber/NBC

Simon Cowell made his name on American Idol for his biting tongue – and was absolutely the judge to be feared.

But since welcoming his son Eric just over two years ago, Cowell, 56, has happily settled into family life with girlfriend Lauren Silverman – and this, he admits, has given him a new softer, sensibility when it comes to contestants on his TV shows.

“Lauren is great,” Cowell tells PEOPLE. “And there’s no question when you actually have a kid, it does make you feel different because you understand how you would feel if it was your son up there.”

Having joined the judging panel on the new season of NBC’s America’s Got Talent with Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel, Cowell says: “I’m very conscious that the kids who audition for AGT want to be there, they’re not being pushed into it, and that they’re having a great day out, otherwise we wouldn’t see them.

“I think X Factor and Idol were edited so that I was always seen as this bad-tempered, miserable whatever – which of course I am at times, but I’m not like that the whole day!”

“But on AGT there are so many feel-good moments that they show those more than me ripping people to pieces because they are rubbish.”

For more from Cowell, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

And not content with the fact that Eric is already showing flare as a talent show judge – and is a born critic just like his dad, Cowell says they share the same character.

“He’s exactly like me when I was younger, he’s so cheeky, and he knows how to get me wrapped around his little finger,” he says with a laugh.

“When it’s time to go to bed, the bottom lip comes out and it’s like, ‘Just one more minute, just one more minute, I want to watch Toy Story! I want to read a story!'”

But it’s clear Cowell doesn’t mind too much: “He’s very, very, very funny. He really cracks me up.”

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