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

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.

Comments (89 total) Add your comment
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  • Stephanie T.

    Now is it possible to limit the amount of crazy auditioners on television when Idol airs again in January?

  • Vic

    I hope it does improve in all the ways you mentioned. Randy and Paula are lame and pretty much coast through their duties. I think if either were forced to put a little effort into their comments, they could do fine.

  • Ed

    Michael, I love your sweater!

  • maria72

    Unfortunately, he still will be at the helm of So You Think you Can Dance…this year being the weakest and manipulated season to date…

  • ilovemarks

    I agree with all of your suggestions. Could you suggest he no longer focus 24/7 as a producer and judge of SYTCD? Where he blatantly ‘shipped certain dancers and tried to manipulate the outcome there as well? Slezak… You have the power!

  • ilovemarks

    Sorry, missing (Y)ou.

  • coco

    Oh Dear Slezak! You just made my afternoon. Can’t wait to see the changes. If it were up to me, I will get rid of Randy ASAP; I will leave Paula just for the entertainment factor; Simon has to stay because he is the only one who knows anything about this business in the current panel; I will spend some time looking for a nicer version of Simon to replace Randy. Another suggestion is to completely eliminate the audition episodes (this can be a DVD release weeks before the show so people can get familiarized with potential contestants ONLY if they want to). Just show the stories and auditions of the top 24. And finally, get rid of the swayboats, I’m totally supportive Slezak!

  • Liz

    As soon as they stop airing the crazies auditioning, they will stop showing up. I, for one, am very much looking to an AI without Swaybots® and all the other lame ideas Mr. Lythgoe had. It’ll be very interesting to see if/how it changes next season!

  • Christina

    Losing Nigel is the best thing that could have happened to the show. Horrible themes, swaying arms, group songs, etc. are all things that Nigel was responsible for. Hopefully someone from outside if the British reality family takes over and makes the show a whole lot less cheesy

  • PS

    For everyone who hates Randy and Paula (Ra-ula?), or think they are useless, look up David Cook in the Hollywood rounds on You Tube. Simon wanted to cut him, and “Raula” kept him in. They do have a good sense for the business, they just have very odd on-air sensibilities.

  • Winona

    Sounds good – and perhaps the absurd age-limits can go with him.
    <= an over-the-hill 33-year-old singer

  • Lauren

    Good stuff. I’m on board, buddy. My thoughts exactly:

  • Carlos

    I’m so happy he’s gone – someone get him away from SYTYCD now too because this season proves he’s out to ruin that also!

  • Kristen

    If my memory is correct, there was one of the early seasons (1-4) that they DID announce the top 24 live. I thought it was a great idea- and they never did it again.

  • Jae

    Yes. Goodbye, Nigel. And good riddance! Now if Paula and Randy follow, AI is ON! But Sleazak, you speak such good idol sense as always. Nice to read you again. You should do a season 7 follow up with the kids on tour. They are totally making fools of the judges. :)

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