Former American Idol producer, Nigel Lythgoe, gave a wide-ranging interview to The Daily Beast while in New York City to attend the opening of the Broadway revival of On The Town.
Nigel became an investor in the new production when he was investigating the iconic musical as a possible prize package for the winner of So You Think You Can Dance. This year’s champ, Ricky Ubeda, is set to join the production in February–if it’s still around. Good reviews after opening night are a pretty good indication On The Town will be sticking around.
By the way, Nigel revealed that Ricky led the SYTYCD voting results week in and week out during the competition. He also said that his allegiance drifted to contestant, and fellow tap dancer, Zach Everhart halfway through the competition. “Ricky was already there at the top. But Zack grew, and that was beautiful to watch,” said Nigel.
Here are a couple of choice soundbites from the always quotable Mr. Lythgoe:
Nigel wants to give SYTYCD a “new facelift” IF it’s renewed by FOX.
My problem is that there’s little drama at the end of the day. Because we get a Top 20 that is fucking brilliant. And then from that we get a Top 10 that is really fucking brilliant. I had nowhere else to go after saying fucking brilliant to elevate it. So if all we’re saying to everyone is, “Wow you were fantastic,” or, “God you were brilliant,” how many superlatives came you come up with? And then you have three or four people all saying the same thing. So I need to give some jeopardy, and I think I’ve worked out a way to do it so that if you are brilliant at what you do there’s still somewhere to go.
Nigel concedes that age has contributed to the decline in viewership for American Idol, but feels the show strayed when it became all about the judges. He also has some kind words for The Voice:
Yeah. It became about the judges, which is terrific on The Voice. And The Voice has that amazing format—and not just the chairs swinging around—but so that you can steal a contestant, so that it’s me against you so that it can be about the judges. Idol, apart from Cowell and the interaction between him and Paula, was always about the contestants: their backstories, where they came from, everything about them. Then all of a sudden it started being about the judges.
Even at the latter stages Simon and Ryan took over the mantle and it became a little dark. Then it became about Nicki and Mariah. All of a sudden the kids started disappearing, so you couldn’t even remember who the contestants are. That had something to do with it. Plus, at the age it is, which is 13 years old, the kids who were 10 then are 23 or 24 now. Their kids are starting to watch and they want their own show. Everybody wants their own show. Idol was mom and dad’s show. They want their own. But quite frankly it’s still huge. It’s still the number one show on Fox, but everyone dumps on it because of this vast drop.
On why singing shows are not producing stars anymore:
I think in the last few years of Idol they’ve not done the depth on the contestants. I didn’t know anybody last year. I think The Voice is about the judges. The X Factor is about the judges. And I think the record industry has a lot to do with it, too. You can just download everything now. You’re not really creating a record-seller. And to be frank, maybe the talent hasn’t been something that at the end of the day people want to buy. If you think about who did become stars, they were all personalities. Jennifer Hudson was sixth before she took off. Ruben Studdard I thought was fantastic, the best crossover singer since Luther Vandross for me. And then he came out with an urban record. But on the show he was singing Neil Sedaka songs. So you can screw up careers as well. These shows are great platform. That doesn’t mean to say they’re going to be springboards anymore.
Nigel’s thought on the importance of addressing a contestant’s sexuality during the course of the competition:
But again, how much do you show of somebody’s life? Do you really want to say there’re straight, they’re gay, they’re bisexual? What does that have to do with anything? That’s up to the individual. If they want to say, “I’m gay!” I’m happy put it out there. If they want to say, “I’m straight.” Ok. But why? I just don’t get it. I think there are things that are just personal. If you want to come out, come out. If you don’t want to come out, don’t. I don’t go to my dentist and ask him if he’s straight or gay. You should take pride in who you are, end of story.
…I think it’s been a barrier to dance for years. I don’t want to create barriers. I want to knock barriers down. It’s frustrating for me that we’ve got to pigeonhole people. We’re all just talented people, end of story. People this year were telling us, “Where were the African Americans?” I was like, “Excuse me?” Critics were like, “There was only one African American on the show.” Did we? I don’t think about it. Maybe I should.