Nigel Lythgoe previews ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ talks ‘Idol,’ Vanessa Hudgens, lyrical flexing

Nigel Lythgoe has judged and executive produced “So You Think You Can Dance” for 14 seasons going back to 2005. Brooklin Rosenstock/FOX

This was posted Tuesday, June 6, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Nigel Lythgoe is best known to TV viewers as the lead judge on “So You Think You Can Dance,” which returns for its 14th season on Monday, June 12 at 8 p.m.

Yes, he not only created that show from scratch but he was a also a major reason why “American Idol” worked for much of its run as an executive producer. And Lythgoe also came back to produce the Fox “Idol” series finale, expertly balancing nostalgia with the competition at hand.

Offered to speak to Lythgoe about the upcoming season of SYTYD, I had to say yes. The man is entertaining and honest.

For instance, he honestly didn’t know yet again if SYTYD would even get renewed after last year’s less-than-enthralling “juniors” edition. But Fox gave the show another shot, albeit with a shorter season. They also scaled back the audition cities to just two from three in 2016 and four in earlier seasons.

Lythgoe said while the entertainment press focuses on salaries of judges, much of the cost of creating a show like this is in the production, especially the auditions in cities outside of Los Angeles. Skimming back the audition sites saves money albeit at the expense of possibly missing potential talent.

He has no idea what the exact calculus has been for Fox to keep his show around but he’s grateful that they keep bringing it back. “If everybody that tells me it’s my favorite show actually watched the show, we’d never have this problem!” he said.

This upcoming season goes back to the basics for SYTYD. There will be a final 10 paired with 10 all-star dancers from past seasons.

Mary Murphy returns for the first time since 2014, taking the place of Paula Abdul, who left to tour with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men. And Murphy’s scream is still as loud as ever.

“I’m okay with it if I know it’s coming but sometimes she just screams,” Lythgoe said. “I have a pacemaker. If my heart stops, just have Mary scream into my ear and that should jump-start the pacemaker.” (He’s had the pacemaker going back to 2003, recalling the heart attack happening while he was editing a sequence with Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. “Yes, Clay Aiken gave me a heart attack!” he said.)

And seeking a youthful outlook, Lythgoe picked Vanessa Hudgens as a new judge because of her acting and dance background. She has starred in “Gigi” on Broadway and played Rizzo on “Grease: Live” last year on Fox. “You’re constantly looking for fresh faces and new enthusiasm,” he said. “She came on as a guest judge so I said, ‘Please do the series.’ Fortunately for us, her TV show on NBC got cancelled.” [That being “Powerless.”]

The first episode, which I screened, shows some impressive, emotional dancing from a Russian couple, a funny, creative hip-hop performer and a dramatically taut performance by two Russian twins. That dance was sent out by Fox already as a promo:

But due to new work visa restrictions, the Russian twins couldn’t return for the Academy portion of the competition. “I’m not sure it’s Trump’s fault but you can blame him since it seems like he gets blamed for everything!” Lythgoe mused.

Another thing he’s never seen until season 14 is something called “lyrical flexing.” “I can’t even begin to describe it,” he said. “You can disjoint every sort of joint in your body and still make it look beautiful.”

He loves that so many of SYTYD alums have ended up performing and choreographing on other shows such as “Dancing With the Stars” and the new “World of Dance” as well as Broadway and major tours. In fact, that’s why many times they can’t get the all stars they want for SYTYD itself. They’re too busy!

And he isn’t the type to slag a rival show, as in the successful launch so far of Jennifer Lopez’s “World of Dance” on NBC. “The more people become entrenched and attracted to dance, the better. I wish them well. Let’s hope they can be as successful and make it 14 seasons like our show.”

Lythgoe has mixed feelings about “Idol” returning on ABC less than two years after it ended on Fox. “It’s a tough one,” he said. “I don’t know how I feel about it just yet. My original feeling was it’s too early to bring it back but I know the loyal fans are going to love it. ABC does a great job with ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ If they’re going to do ‘American Idol,’ I hope they are just as protective with that franchise as well. And I love Katy Perry.”

And he doesn’t begrudge either Kelly Clarkson or Jennifer Hudson for jumping ship, in a sense, and coaching on “The Voice,” the show that helped suck the wind out of “Idol.”

“You make your own future,” he said. ” ‘American Idol’ is a springboard for your career. It doesn’t control your career. Other people manage you and help you. I’m sure their advisors said this was financially a great idea. I think Kelly will make a wonderful judge. [You can tell he’s from “Idol.” He calls them “judges” when the “Voice” terminology is “coach.”] I’ve seen her judge on ABC’s “Duets.” I thought she was terrific. She was also amazing when she did guest judging on ‘Idol’ last season. Jennifer, I haven’t seen judge, but I know she’s done ‘The Voice’ in England. She has a great brain on her. She has her own opinions which is really important. It’s dangerous sometimes for celebrities to have too much of an opinion because people might turn against you. Not many can be Simon Cowell.”

I then mentioned that even Cowell isn’t the Cowell of old now that he’s older, a father and on his own show “America’s Got Talent.” He’s significantly kinder and gentler.

“He may have found a little bit of love in his heart,” Lythgoe said. “Something in there may have melted!”

TV PREVIEW

“So You Think You Can Dance,” debuting season 14 on Monday, June 12, 2017 on Fox

 

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