Report: Nigel Lythgoe May Return To ‘Idol’ — What Will He Fix?

Nigel Lythgoe (Fox)

Nigel Lythgoe (Fox)

According to The Hollywood Reporter, former ‘American Idol‘ producer Nigel Lythgoe is in talks with Fox to return to the show as part of a series-wide Season 10 reboot. Lythgoe, who currently produces and judges ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ departed the show after Season Seven — and he’s been a vocal critic of the show since he left.

Ratings for ‘Idol’ suffered last season, and this summer’s ‘Idol’ tour has seen its own turmoil, with canceled dates and an early exit from this summer’s beleaguered shed circuit. And the departure of Simon Cowell has left a question mark hanging over the show, with observers wondering if Fox and 19 Entertainment, the show’s producer, can find someone with both musical knowledge and an acid tongue to replace him.

Meanwhile, ‘Idol’ watchers are praising ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ which ‘Idol’ blogging veteran MJ Santilli called ‘Dance’ “much better than ‘Idol’ in just about every way,” while ‘Idol’ blogger Melinda Green said that “‘Idol’ was kind of more entertaining with him on it.”

Watch ‘A Conversation With Nigel’:

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Could Lythgoe save ‘Idol’ from its doldrums? And if he were to come back, what should he fix first? A few suggestions:

The Judges. The judges’ panel was probably the biggest problem that ‘Idol’ had this year, in that its four members (and host Ryan Seacrest) had even more of the spotlight during a season that was severely lacking in starpower. In April, Lythgoe told Zap2It that he would replace the entire ‘Idol’ panel in one fell swoop. He proclaimed: “I don’t think it really works replacing one person. They don’t have a great deal of chemistry at the moment. Ryan and Simon have fallen out. It’s uncomfortable to watch. Ellen [DeGeneres] hasn’t worked out as well as we would have hoped.”

He wasn’t incorrect by any stretch — the chemistry between the judges last season was strained during DeGeneres’ introductory episodes, and seemed to get worse as the season went on. Kara DioGuardi tried (and failed) to become more alpha-judge strident; DeGeneres, who seemed to have the charisma sucked out of her the minute she walked into the Idoldome, sunk so low that some episodes had her repeating awful puns multiple times; Randy Jackson’s patter was reduced to an endless stream of “dawgs” that was marked by complete confusion over what constituted “modern” music; and Cowell showed the world what it looked like to suffer from the most well-remunerated case of senioritis in recorded history. Meanwhile, Seacrest’s attempts to keep a handle on things resulted in the normally cucumber-like host losing his cool on multiple occasions.

The rumor is that Lythgoe would blow up the tableau behind the judges’ table (and its Coca-Cola cups) were he to return to the show. He was a vocal proponent of returning to the three-judge format that went away after Ellen DeGeneres’ arrival this season; in April, he said that he thought Paula Abdul should return to the show, and that she should be joined by Elton John and Usher. Since then, a flurry of names have made their way through the gossip pages as possible replacements, including Chris Isaak, Harry Connick Jr., and Bret Michaels. The Hollywood Reporter also says that Lythgoe would woo Justin Timberlake. That seems like a bit of a pipe dream — especially given the almost four-year interval that’s passed since the excellent FutureSex/LoveSounds — but it would at least bring a hint of modern pop sensibility to a panel that’s woefully lacked it.

The Songs. One thing that was striking about this year’s ‘Idol’ was the revisiting of songs that had been performed by other contestants in a more memorable way. (The most egregious example of this came during the finale, when Season Nine victor Lee DeWyze was given Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — which had been sung by both Jason Castro in Season Seven and Tim Urban a few weeks prior — for purposes of his coronation.) ‘Dance’ has slightly fresher musical selections — the story of waitress-turned-pop-songstress Christina Perri would probably never have happened via the ‘Idol’ musical channels, which discouraged both DeWyze and Season Nine runner-up Crystal Bowersox from singing original material on the show.

This season, ‘Dance’ has used ultramodern music by, among others, the bewitching Irish singer Roísín Murphy and the compelling R&B robot Janelle Monáe — and despite those songs being put in competition alongside performances to standards like INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart” and Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’,” their relatively unknown status hasn’t hurt the contestants. Bandleader Rickey Minor has taken off for the pastures of ‘The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,’ which seems to be yet another opening for the music to be retooled from its current wedding-band-like malaise.

The Pacing. Do we really need an entire month (and a week!) of audition episodes? No. If the producers decide to get to the narrative of the show — the competition between the best singers — faster, they could bring in viewers more quickly. Sure, the “Shoot The Freak” audition episodes do very well for ‘Idol.’ But if those people who tuned in during the heavily touted premiere weeks were treated to singers they could actually root for, wouldn’t they be more likely to stick around once the actual competition started?

The Contestants. Whatever process the judges had for picking this year’s Top 24, something went dreadfully wrong in Hollywood Week. Maybe it was the overreliance on types — Aaron Kelly as “this year’s David Archuleta,” Lilly Scott as “this year’s sorta-more-indie Megan Joy,” and so on. Maybe the show’s just running out of untapped talent after nine years of being on the air. Maybe the producers sent drama royalty ahead of more talented singers. Or maybe the introduction of DeGeneres made things awkward. In any event, there needs to be a change. The ‘Idol’ producers have already kind of done this, saying that the show’s minimum age would be reduced to 15 in what might be a reaction to Bieber fever. But perhaps they should alter the parameters even further: They could up the maximum age, in response to the show’s aging demographics. It’s an admittedly unsexy move, but it might allow a whole new slew of singers who “grew up” on ‘Idol’ to finally try out — and who knows, one might very well be the next Susan Boyle.

I’m still of the opinion that any reboot of the show should be prefaced by a “Best Of The Rest” competition in which also-rans from previous years go head-to-head against one another — especially given the pining of so many ‘Idol’ watchers for the likes of Anoop Desai, Melinda Doolittle, Elliot Yamin, and Lilly Scott.

What do you think of the news? Should Nigel return? Who should come with him? What do you think he should change if he does come back?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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