In anticipation of tonight’s two-hour season premiere of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, EW.com rang up executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe to chat about the show’s fourth season. A former dancer himself, Lythgoe talked about two venerable hoofing styles that have yet to break through on the show (hint: both involve special shoes), what he’s looking for when he selects the final 20 dancers, and where on the planet SYTYCD is even bigger than Idol.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So the promos make it seem like this season there’s going to be a lot of leaping into the air and spinning.
NIGEL LYTHGOE: [Laughs] Yup. There’s going to be a lot of leaping in the air and spinning. I think they were the things the editors [of the promos] thought were exciting. But there’s a lot more to it than that.
Of course. Were there any styles of dancing that you were surprised to see more of in the auditions this year?
Yeah. We’ve been pushing this for a couple years now, and it’s starting to happen, and that’s a fusion of different styles. I find break dancing and hip-hop very exciting, in certain areas, because it’s dangerous, because it takes my breath away, because I go, “Gawd Almighty, even when I was at my best, I could never be able to do that.” But when you try to get them to do dancing where they move their legs, it’s different; a lot of breakers find it difficult to dance dance. So now they’ve started doing [dance] classes, and they’ve started to get themselves a strong base [in styles] other than what they do. There’s this fusion happening of this sort of soft hip-hop, where they’re putting contemporary together with their popping, and I find that very exciting.
I’ve heard maybe you’re seeing more tap dancers audition this year?
We did, but not more in that sense — maybe five or six good ones. So in comparison [with all the auditions], not really. But I think people think, I’ll be put through on this [style] because they won’t see many of them. They’ve done jazz, they’ve done contemporary, but they’ve passed themselves off as a salsa dancer or something. So then we go, “Oh, let’s see if they can do anything else,” and they can, and it’s because they’re really trained in those other forms. We’ll go, ”Oh wow, that’s a salsa dancer doing that [other style],” and [judge] Mary [Murphy] then will go, ”Well, hold on. They’re not really a salsa dancer.” She can spot the real ones, our Mary, and then be very loud about it.
Will there be any format changes this year?
No. I’d like to consolidate on what we did last season. I think last season was our strongest across the board with choreography and dancers. It’s the first time that I’d had lots of guys coming up to me saying, ”Oh, I watched it with my son,” or ”I watched it with my daughter. Really like the show.” So I think the appeal is broadening, and I’d like to see that continue.
NEXT: ”There’s going to be one winner. They’re not going to become multimillionaires, like the Idols. They’re going to still have to work hard for every single thing they get, even if they win. That’s just the way of a dancer: undervalued, underpaid, and overworked.”
As you’re going forward, will you be adding any new styles?
Yeah, I was hoping to put tap in there. Tap’s a really difficult one, because I can’t teach anybody to tap in a week. It’s just not possible. So I was hoping that, if we had enough tappers, we’d be able to do some of it. I’m not holding my breath. I would like to see classical come through. Certainly with contemporary dancers, if they can do good contemporary, they should be able to do classical. And I don’t mind one or two weeks pushing the envelope. I don’t think people appreciate classical, and it’s not going to be something that entertaining if you don’t like it.
Um, what do you mean by classical, exactly?
Oh! Ballet, okay!
Yeah. [Sighs] I know I’ll be fought against by Fox, who won’t want any classical. But if we’re going to say we’re going to dance, then they’re going to have to dance. [Ballet] was the basis of most dance routines.
What is your criteria for putting together your top 20 dancers?
I don’t always pick the best dancers. It is casting. It is saying, “Okay, this personality is going to jar against this personality.” I want to keep it as interesting as possible. I’d like to diversify styles as much as possible. I want to have people that we can push and not have them break down the minute they can’t do something. It’s a long season for dancers. It isn’t like American Idol. If you lose your voice, you lose your voice one week. If you twist an ankle or put your knee out, that’s it, the season’s over for you. So they’ve got to be sturdy, both physically and mentally. They can’t fall foul of injuries too quickly. They’ve got to, at the end of the day, get on with people, or we believe that they’re going to get on with people. And they’re going to have to want to win it. That’s really important. We’re losing a little bit of that on Idol at the moment. You know, they know they’re going to do well when they’re in fourth or fifth place. That’s not going to happen with dance. There’s going to be one winner. They’re not going to become multimillionaires, like the Idols. They’re going to still have to work hard for every single thing they get, even if they win. That’s just the way of a dancer: undervalued, underpaid, and overworked.
Speaking of winners, how is last year’s winner, Sabra, doing?
She’s just been in Australia. She had a fantastic time down there. She was on the Australian version of So You Think You Can Dance. That program in Australia is huge. I mean, that’s up to 55, 56 percent of the viewing audience. It really, in its first season, just killed everything around it. Bigger than Idol. Bigger than everything out there.
They do like their dancing Down Under. I guess there’s going to be a Canadian version too?
A Canadian version, yes.
Why do you think dancing, in the last four years or so, has become so popular on TV?
It’s basically because how talent has been treated, getting audiences involved with it. [The version of] Dancing With the Stars that was so successful in the U.K. got audiences voting. I still don’t understand their way of voting, with the judges. It doesn’t matter. The public still feels part of it. It’s very similar to Idol in a sense that you choose your favorite. That part of it is just a successful format at this time. Dancing is another talent. And people like to see talented people [on TV]; nowadays, they also like to see people who are less than talented be smacked down.