Nigel Lythgoe (American Idol)

Nigel Lythgoe: The Interview (American Idol)
Interesting Tidbits

Nigel is the only person to dance in, choreograph, direct and produce the Royal Variety Performance for the Queen of England.

Nigel Lythgoe is best known as one of the main judges on the Fox Network hit reality show “So you think you can Dance.” However, most people do not know that he is also the executive producer for that show as well as “American Idol.” Starting with the auditions on Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 at 8pm on Fox, “American Idol” will be back for its amazing 12th season to find new and upcoming talent. Besides some new judges, there are a couple of other changes to the show this season. Nigel was kind enough to talk to Shakefire.com to discuss the upcoming season of “American Idol.”



: My first question is, besides the judges, are there any other new changes or anything new we can expect from this season?
NL: Well, we’ve done quite a little interesting thing with the auditions and the fact that American Idol has always gone out to the cities and we take over huge football stadiums and then bring it right down to the auditions. However, this time we’ve actually taken an American Idol bus out to the little towns this year, with a producer on board who have brought kids back in to the auditions. You get to see kids that wouldn’t necessarily be either close enough to one of the cities we were auditioning or even have the financial means to get to one of the big cities. I must say this new element introduced new talent to us.

Plus we had another new thing called “I Nominate,” which was friends and family who thought that the person that they were nominating had a great voice, but were a little too nervous to come along to audition for us. Randy Jackson actually went out and we did some hidden camera stuff and shocked them and surprised them. We then gave them an audition number so that they actually skipped the lines and they came straight in to see the judges, if Randy agreed. That was quite interesting and gives a little something different to the audition process also.

Lastly, we changed up Hollywood Week quite a bit. For the first time ever in Hollywood Week, we split the weeks up and gave a week to the boys and then a week to the girls. This really gave us an awful lot more focus on our talent this year and that allowed us to see the woods through the trees, if you will. We plan on doing that during the Vegas rounds as well up until we get to our top ten. These changes are meant to give us better insight into the talent.

: Wow! That’s a good number of changes and will surely mix things up this season. Are there any musical guests or special coaches or judges you could talk about for this season or that you’re allowed to talk about?
NL: No guest judges this year. We’ve got enough with the four judges we currently have right now. Also, nothing about mentors this season at all. However, Jimmy Iovine is coming back this season to help out. We did it the year before where we actually used record producers to help the kids. I want to do that again this year and try and give their journey the same journey that they would have had had if they had not had this competition but moved in to the music business directly. The more I can align it to the music business, the stronger it is going to be for them and their journey.
SF: In your opinion, with so many similar shows on the air, why do you think it is that “American Idol” is the only one producing genuine stars?

NL: Well, in fairness, I suppose its right to say that the other shows really haven’t been on the air that long enough to qualify against “American Idol.” I do think that other shows tend to concentrate a little more on maybe gimmicks, maybe their judges a little too much. I say that having just experienced two moments of talking about our new judges, but hopefully the programs themselves, when you see them, will show you that we’re still focusing on the contestants.

Also, the amount of votes that people vote on the show and their involvement with whom they want to see successful after the show if a big factor as well. Plus you have to say that Phillip Phillips’ song “Home” was just tremendous song and he was very lucky in having a great song to come out with. Also, Scotty McCreery is very good in that genre and people loved him. We’ve had success and we want to continue having success.

: Everyone has heard a lot in the press about the other judges for this season, but we haven’t heard a lot about Keith Urban. Can you tell us a little bit about his contribution this season?
NL: The topic of Keith Urban actually came up at TCA where somebody said, “All of a sudden country music is being embraced by American Idol,” which in truth I tried to make things right and say, “Well, we did country music right from the beginning.” Simon Cowell doesn’t like country music and I don’t think he understands country music. I don’t think he understands all the different genres of country music either. He just thinks that everything is “grandma got ran over by a reindeer” and that’s his assumption of country music and he has always put it down.

However, we always had it there and we always had good country singers. We’ve always had it within American Idol. This is the first time I think that we’ve had a country judge and he is such a lovely man. He is the scratching post between Mariah and Nicki. He sometimes looks like he’s watching a tennis match with his head bobbing between the two girls, but when it’s his turn to speak, Keith gives his mind and he won’t put up with anybody else knocking him down. He’s had rounds with Mariah, Randy, and Nicki; a big one with Nicki, in truth.

All the judges are very passionate. Each one of the judges I think is looking for something else this year. They know they’ve got a big job on their hands because Jennifer, Steven, and Randy did very well with Scotty McCreery and Phillip Phillips. They’ve also have got to live up to that expectation and they’re very competitive people. These are human beings that have experienced an incredible success in their own lives. They don’t want to be a let down in any way shape or form so they are going for the best that they can get.

I think Nicki is looking for an artist. I think Mariah is looking for the complete singer/songwriter. Randy is looking for somebody that sings on pitch, and Keith isn’t exactly just looking for a country star. Keith is looking for an instrumentalist, a good singer, and somebody that can capture that sort of magic charisma, if you will, and connect with the public. They all have their own agendas. Keith is a great addition this year.

: Speaking of Nicki Minaj on the judges’ panel this season, do you think we are on our way of having a greater embrace of hip hop music on Idol? I mean, could we potentially have a winner who might be a rapper/singer like Nicki?
NL: I don’t believe so. I don’t think rap really fits in to “American Idol” in the sense that I believe rap is an art form in itself more akin to poetry, more akin to drama, if you will. I think rap in the streets, when they have rap competitions, is thrilling because these kids are making it up and having a go at each other. They’ve got something to say. This is about getting their frustrations out. Hip hop is a way of life. It isn’t a genre in truth in American Idol.

I think what we’ll get is a lot of good R&B kids. A lot of good street kids coming in that goodness knowing we need it because there’s very little music to get hold of these days. I think we’ve heard the Adele song book 2,987 times this season because there are melodies there that the kids can latch on to and sing. It’s really difficult these days to get songs that have got a verse, a chorus, a middle eight, and a melody. Once you get them, then those are the songs kids sing, and we all go, “Ugh!” and then you give them a whole list of 9,200 songs and they sing Etta James At Last. We can’t win sometimes with the music, but no I do not believe hip hop will become a genre on American Idol.

: Well, I can’t wait to check out this season. Thank you Nigel and good luck!
NL: Thank you Paul! Enjoy!

Paul Arca
Interview by Paul Arca
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