Image Credit: Toby Canham/Getty ImagesNigel Lythgoe has certainly had quite a week. After flying to Washington D.C. to celebrate National Dance Day, the So You Think You Can Dance exec producer and judge formally announced his return as an exec producer of American Idol, and then launched right into the penultimate week of SYTYCD‘s seventh season. But when EW caught up with him backstage tonight at CBS Television City after the SYTYCD results show, all that activity still didn’t stop the irrepressibly loquacious Brit from holding forth on several pressing Idol topics. (Expect another post with Lythgoe’s thoughts on the impending SYTYCD finale soon.)
Although Lythgoe insists that he has not been privy to any negotiations with replacements for Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres’ seats at the Idol judges’ table, he heartily endorsed the return of judge Randy Jackson, who still has one year left on his Idol contract. Expanding on his comment in a Variety interview that Jackson was the show’s “barnacle,” Lythgoe tells EW, “For me, a barnacle is secure, it’s solid.” Lythgoe also batted away criticism that he meant the term disparagingly, chuckling, “[People] said, ‘Oh no, it means that he’s stuck.’ Yeah, he’s stuck, and we need him stuck there. He’s the one person who’s gone through this entire mess, if you’d like.” For Lythgoe, the most important element is the chemistry between the judges, not their individual star wattage. “We’ve seen over the last two years some really great people that haven’t fitted together, as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “Don’t forget, [when Idol first started] we introduced two people you’d never heard of — Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson. It doesn’t always need this, ‘They’ve done this, they’ve done that!'”
One thing Lythgoe wants to make clear, however, is that he would much rather be talking about future contestants than the future of the judging panel. “I can’t wait for the day when we take the spotlight off the bloody judges,” he says, emphatically tapping a nearby table. To that end, Lythgoe suggests that the show should include a new round after Hollywood week but before America votes in which the remaining contestants are put through further mentoring and training to prepare them to perform. “Say we end up with 50 kids,” says Lythgoe. “I don’t want to give them to America. I think it’s really tough to say to America, ‘Here’s 50 people, who do you like? Vote!’ You’re voting on the song, or what they’re wearing, or because they’ve got a handsome or pretty face. You’re not voting on their talent, because you don’t know it! And why should you? I would love to whittle that down more…to take them through [a refining] process. You don’t want to expose a lack of talent; you want to celebrate the best talent that you’ve got.”
So what could that process entail? After referring to 19 Entertainment recently dropping Sony Music for Universal Music Group as the label that signs Idol contestants, Lythgoe says, “If we’ve got Universal Music this year, let’s bring in Universal stars, let them mentor, chat, whatever.” He also seems to suggest filming contestant makeovers. “If they’ve got a tooth missing,” he says, “why not take them to a dentist and give them a tooth? If they turn ’round and say, ‘I don’t want a f—ing tooth,’ great, at least we know who you are! At least we know that you’re standing up for yourself, and you want to keep that old sloppy sweater on when we try to put you in an Armani suit. At least you are distinguishing who you are, because until we know them, we don’t know if we like them.”
Another thought from the SYTYCD impressario: Dance lessons! “These kids walk with the same arm and leg [like in a march],” he says. “You say, ‘Right, we’re going to dance [in a group number],’ they become this soldier with dyslexia of the body.”
Before Lythgoe wrapped up the interview, however, he also wanted to underline one last point: He is not the final word on all things American Idol. “I’m getting so much exposure with this,” he said wearily, “I do want to stress that I’m part of a team. I don’t mind saying let’s look at this, and let’s do that and see if [fellow exec producers Simon Fuller, Ken Warwick, and Cécile Frot-Coutaz] agree or disagree. I’m part of a team.”
What do you think of Nigel’s ideas, PopWatchers? Do you think the rest of the Idol team should heed his words?