Simon Cowell: I've Always Been Fascinated by Paula Abdul

09/08/2011 at 08:30 AM EDT

Paula Abdul Has Always Fascinated Simon Cowell
Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell
Brewer-Whittle/Splash News Online

Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul

They fought a lot on American Idol. And that's exactly why Simon Cowell wanted Paula Abdul as a fellow judge on The X Factor.

"I do really like people who disagree with me," Cowell tells Redbook. "Probably my best friends in the world are the people I argue with the most, because they don't always say what you want to hear."

In fact, Abdul, 49, may be his perfect foil. "From the minute I met Paula, I was fascinated by her," says Cowell, 51. "She's a complex person, but – this is going to sounds very American – she's got a great heart."

Cowell, who's counting down to the premiere of The X Factor on Sept. 21, says the show is different from its competitors because it features people of all ages – from 12 to 80 – who have fascinating stories.

"One woman in her mid-40s had gotten out of a horribly abusive marriage. When she sang, she was amazing," he says. "We saw the 5,000 people in the audience all get on their feet. That's more powerful than a 17-year-old who comes in and says, 'I want to be a star.' "

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