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Nigel Lythgoe's 'American Idol' exit: Good for the show?

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Nigel_l

Nigel_lFrom last January to May, I wrote approximately a gugillion* words about American Idol‘s seventh season, and not many of them were kind to executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. After all, the man introduced those hateful, front-row swaybots; chose a multitude of themes that prevented contestants from singing anything written after 1990; failed to purchase a thesaurus (or hire an “adjectives consultant”) for judge Randy ”Molten Hot (mess)” Jackson; refused to properly apologize for the show’s Paula-gate incident; and seemed hellbent on sticking to a predetermined David-vs.-David story arc, no matter how well the 10 remaining finalists performed on a given week. (Rumors that Lythgoe planned to have sixth-place finisher Carly Smithson blindfolded and dragged in front of a firing squad as part of her post-elimination sendoff remain unconfirmed.)

All that aside, though, I was momentarily flustered when I read the news yesterday that Lythgoe is stepping down from his Idol role. “What if, come January 2009, I realize it’s all been a case of better the arrogant, Lulu-fancying devil you know?” I wondered to myself. But then I came to my senses.

At its core, American Idol survives (and thrives) because this country loves watching talented kids get plucked from obscurity and fight their way to superstardom (while being verbally abused by a delightfully unfiltered Brit). And as long as there’s undiscovered talent (ages 16-29) in the U.S., and as long the show produces at least one Carrie Underwood or Daughtry or Jennifer Hudson each season, then the Idol juggernaut can (and should) keep rolling along.

Heck, the more I think about it, the more I’m looking forward to an Idol without Lythgoe at the helm. Maybe now the show will freshen up its mentor lineup (paging Timbaland and Linda Perry, pronto!). Maybe (as fellow Idoloonie Maura Johnston of Idolator suggested in an MTV roundtable I participated in last May, and which I’ve embedded after the jump) Idol will start announcing its top 24 live (and end the annual spoilerization of this part of the program). Better still, maybe a new exec producer will level the playing field by showing the audition packages for each and every one of those 24 hopefuls. Maybe (as my colleague Mark Harris suggested in his must-read column about fixing Idol) Lythgoe’s successor will boot the embarrassing Paula-Randy duo, and ban their replacements (and Simon) from listening in on dress rehearsals. And maybe a new producer will realize that Idol‘s drama doesn’t come from meticulously scripting every second of the show — from tired call-in segments, to rote interview packages, to the presence of those hired sorority sisters in the alleged “mosh pit” — but rather, from the glorious, unpredictability of a live television broadcast populated by hungry, nervous, and sometimes incredibly talented amateurs.

So good night and good luck to Lythgoe as he heads off to focus 24/7 on So You Think You Can Dance (and perhaps other post-Idol projects). The show may not be the same without him, but maybe that’s not such a terrible thing. What say you, Idol fans?

* Apologies for the Ben Stiller/Idol Gives Back reference.

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