December 17, 2008 12:00 AM

Simon Cowell has faced plenty of controversies during his eight years as the most cantankerous judge on American Idol. But dealing with the death of Idol hopeful Paula Goodspeed, the fan who allegedly killed herself in front of Paula Abdul’s house, has been by far the most difficult.

“You’re talking about a human tragedy,” Cowell said during a conference call with the press on Wednesday afternoon. “It hit us like an express train. It upset me a lot.”

Cowell added that he didn’t remember who Goodspeed was until he saw news footage of her infamous audition after the news broke last month. “I don’t remember to be honest with you. We’ve seen a lot of . But when I saw the clips back on the news I remembered it.” While he didn’t recall if Paula Abdul had asked producers not to let Goodspeed into the audition room–as she claimed in a recent radio interview–he said Abdul could have stopped the audition at any time. “All you’ve got to say is ‘Stop filming, I need to speak with the producers.’ That didn’t happen. But I only remember from what I saw in news clips,” he said.

He also said Abdul would not have been in any immediate danger during the audition: “There are a minimum of seven security guards in the room. You don’t see them, but they’re everywhere.”

On a lighter note, Cowell said he is hoping that Britney Spears will make an appearance on Idol’s eighth season, which starts in January. “She would be literally first on the list, as far as I’m concerned,” he said, noting how much excitement she brought to his British show The X Factor earlier this year. “I would love to see her mentor the contestants. If she doesn’t want to do that, but wants to perform on the show … I would welcome that at any time.”

As for Cowell’s own future on Idol, that will be decided next year. “The show could continue without me,” he said bluntly, noting that his duties hosting two other shows have made his schedule unbearable at times. But the loss of his on-air presence wouldn’t hurt Idol’s success, he says: “This show could continue for another 10, 20 years to be honest with you.”

That said, Cowell added, “It’s been the best 8 years of my life. It’s been fantastic.” –Mark Dagostino

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