Credit: FOX

The X Factor Season 2 introduced audiences to a most unusual pairing: curmudgeon-y judge Simon Cowell serving as doting mentor to high-octane pop princesses-in-training Fifth Harmony. Who would’ve thought the perpetually-critical music exec would find a soft spot for not one but five adolescent girls? (Not that way, creeps.)

During FOX’s press conference on December 17, 2012, Simon was asked exactly how challenging it was to work with five girls with distinctly different musical styles. After all, Simon has not only successfully worked with them — but he’s successfully unified them, creating Fifth Harmony from the not-so-on-key ashes of a group L.A. Reid once called “Fifth Unison” (never forget).

So, what was it like to polish them up enough to get them into the finale? Simon didn’t mince words when (jokingly) responding to the question, quipping that working with the girls was “a nightmare! They all have opinions!” He then paused, explaining seriously, “Working with a girl band is very different than working with a boy band and I said this to someone earlier on — in the first half of the relationship you have to guide them, and in the second half of the relationship they have to guide you.”

Simon provided a very telling example: “Lauren [Juaregui] chose "Anything Could Happen" which I think was a brilliant choice and I think turned everything around. Of course they'll always have me supporting them, but I trust their judgement now more than I trust my own.”

Reporting by Carita Rizzo