And the programme's Simon Cowell tells NME.COM they plan to conquer a host of other countries...

TV phenomenon ‘POP IDOL’ has spread from the UK and launched it’s first foreign franchise in South Africa yesterday (March 10) – and NME.COM was there to talk to the programme’s SIMON COWELL.

South Africa is the first country to run with its own version of the talent show. NME.COM can also reveal that Hungary and then Poland are next in line to produce their own versions, while the US is due to launch its edition in June. Other countries that Cowell plans to conquer are France, Germany and Australia.

Cowell was in South Africa all last week drumming up support for the show. During his visit he told NME.COM that other networks had been slow to buy the show because “people are thick”.

Cowell said he was gobsmacked over the popularity of ‘Pop Idol’ outside the UK. “By Christmas I had had enough of ‘Pop Idol’ and needed to get away,” he said. “So I went to Mauritius with my girlfriend to have a break. One night we felt like staying in our hotel room and I switched on the television and there was ‘Pop Idol’! I thought, God there’s no escaping this…’

Although he never expected the show’s massive popularity, Cowell always sensed he was onto a winner. “When we were devising the concept in February last year, we had a hunch that when it came to the final vote it would be one of those emotional moments when the world stops. That it be would be like the OJ Simpson verdict. That everyone would remember exactly what they were doing, where they were and what they were wearing at the time. And it turned out exactly like that. ‘Pop Idol’ generated an unbelievable buzz that hasn’t been around for a long time.”

Cowell also said he thought the eventual winner, Will Young, currently at Number One in the UK singes chart for the second week running, was much more than a one-hit wonder. “He’s more talented than a lot of artists out there, has an original voice and lots of guts. And his next single (a cover of ‘Light My Fire’) will he huge.”

Having no original material will not hinder Will, says Cowell. ‘The ultimate pop idols were Frank Sinatra and Elvis and they weren’t songwriters. Pop is moving in that direction again. And when songwriters sense that they can get a better return on Will they will chase him.”

Cowell, though, refused to say just how much he stands to make on Will and the other would-be ‘Pop Idols’.

“I can’t say really,” he said. “We’ll make a lot of money if we sell a lot of records. We’ll do well out of it, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how much.”

NME.COM will have more from our exclusive interview with Cowell tomorrow.