Britney Spears will forever be linked with “…Baby One More Time,” her debut single and signature song. But if it was up to Simon Cowell, the music industry mogul and permanently cranky American Idol judge, the song would have belonged to a different artist.

For many years now Cowell has been involved with a different reality competition series, America’s Got Talent. This week he went on his AGT costar Howie Mandel’s podcast Howie Mandel Does Stuff — which Cowell says was first-ever podcast appearance — and told a story about trying to procure “…Baby One More Time” for 5ive, a British boy band he was overseeing at the time. Max Martin, however, was not biting, even after Cowell offered to bribe him with a luxury car.

Here’s how Cowell tells it:

I had a boy band at the time called 5ive, who I’d put together. And we were just on the verge of breaking them from America. Someone phones me from America and says, “I’ve just been played this song. And it was written for TLC.” TLC passed. The guy plays it down the phone to me, this song “Hit me baby one more time.” I’m like, “My God, I’ve got to have this song.” So I phoned up Max. I said, “Max. Please, please give me this song.” And he went, “I’ve promised it to someone else.” And I said, “Well, I’ll send you a Mercedes — literally a Mercedes 500 SL if I can have this song.” And he went, “No. I promised it to somebody else.” And I went, “Who.” He said, “Britney Spears.” I said, “Max, let me give you some advice. No one is going to have a hit with a name called Britney Spears.”

In hindsight, Cowell admires Martin for not breaking his promise to a then-unknown pop upstart from Louisiana. You can watch the full interview below; the “…Baby One More Time” talk begins around 39:40.