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'American Idol' producer Nigel Lythgoe: All the fighting on the judging panel is legit


By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 01/11/2013 

American Idol's upcoming twelfth season, which will premiere on Wednesday, January 16 at 8PM ET/PT, will feature a new judging panel, a new semifinals format and a solid Top 10 finalists without any "Wild Card" additions.

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During a Wednesday conference call with reporters, American Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe discussed what viewers can expect to see this new season -- including who's going to be the blunt somewhat harsh judge, whether Idol will show a leaderboard each week like The X Factor had done during its most recent season, and which judge Nigel says is one of the best judges he's ever worked with.

Below is the concluding portion of Nigel's call. Click here to read the first half.

Who do you think is going to lay down the heavy hand this season on the judging panel?

Nigel Lythgoe: Well, so far Randy Jackson.  Randy, when other people couch their, "No you were crap" Randy says it, and, "Give up singing.  You're never going to be a singer, give it up."  You can see the other three judges wouldn't, because although they may agree with that outright sentiment, they certainly feel like they're not there to hurt anybody. 

Where possible, they will try and send them away with either a good comment of how they can improve or a suggestion of what they move on into.  Randy, in truth, is the tough one.  Obviously they haven't met my little friend Jimmy Iovine yet, and he will have many words to say.

One thing -- it must be remembered that these judges are judges.  They're not mentors, so they're not really going to be speaking with the kids during the week or helping them improve.  They will make a judgment of the kid's performance, and then if it helps, then the kids take it onboard. 

If not, it's very difficult in those 30 seconds, 45 seconds to make lasting comments for the kids to improve week on week.  We've got other people telling them how to do that.

How important or how empowering was it for you to have the success that Phillip Phillips had just when you're ready to launch really what is a new version of the show and a reconfigured version of the show?  It sort of reminded everybody that yes Idol can produce big stars, and he's been one of the biggest in a few years.  Is that personally satisfying for you?

Nigel Lythgoe: Well, certainly that song has been one of the biggest and Phillip's still got to prove himself.  We can't just sort of jump up and down and go, "Wow.  He's a major star now."  There's a long way to go to be the next Carrie Underwood who's sustained so well, Kelly Clarkson who's sustained so well -- but thrilled for Phillip. 

It obviously validates the program, but there are other people like [Colton Dixon] in that year that has become a huge Christian star.  Scotty McCreery is still a very big country star.  We tend, thank goodness, to produce the goods at the end of the series but it's maintaining them too. 

I'm not one of these people that just want to wave a flag and go, "American Idol's the greatest thing."  We're a springboard.  We're a springboard but one record does not make a career, and I have every belief that Phillip will make a career because I think he's hugely talented. 

But we are extremely lucky that a record like "Home" sells over three million records, but it was picked up by the Olympic Games.  It was picked up by a movie.  It's astounding how successful that's been, and now hopefully we'll use that as a springboard to get the attention for this year's American Idol.

During this past season of The X Factor, the results shows each week revealed the contestants' leaderboard -- how America's voting had ranked them. I was wondering if you might be considering that for this season of American Idol.

Nigel Lythgoe: Well, it's very amusing to me because it's something that we've wanted to do for eight, nine years.  We did it in England with Pop Idol and I've always been stopped doing it in this country with people saying, "Oh no, people will stop voting if you show that the one person is winning," you know, like a Carrie Underwood who won every week, people will stop voting. 

We always fought that back and said, "Well, no, just because my soccer team is number four in the league doesn't mean to say 'I'm going to stop supporting them.'  I'm going to support them more and try and let them beat the people in front." 

All of a sudden, they managed to do it on The X Factor, so I was a little, "Damn it now looks like we're going to be copying them."  The one thing I believe about American Idol is everybody else copies American Idol, but yes I thought it was a good move. 

I thought it was a good move from when we first came here.  I think it doesn't stop people voting.  I think it makes them more passionate to see their person do well, so I liked it.  We'll still discuss it.  I'm not sure how we'll do it. 

I also like the idea of doing sort of, I suppose, conferences like the NBA does and say, "Let's see how the West voted for you.  Let's see how the East voted for you.  Let's see how the North voted for you."  And build the [anticipation] up so you can see where the votes are coming in from.  I think that would be fabulous.  I think it would be exciting.  I think we'd see if they've got hometown support. 

It's very interesting when you've got a Hawaiian contestant, how that can sway the vote when every island votes for goodness sake.  Anything like that that [promotes] interest and fills a show out, that is generally 99% percent padding anyway, we can make that exciting. I really want to look at that.  Now that The X Factor has managed to do that, I will be fighting tooth and nail.

What do you think makes a good judge and how much of a bonus has it been that we've already heard so much about this season's judges and the sparks that are flying between them?

Nigel Lythgoe: Well, I don't think that's been a bonus in any way, shape or form, to be frank.  It's not publicity that I welcomed.  I really do -- and I've said all the way since we began this show, it's about the contestants.  The judges are always going to be interesting because they are who they are, but the show is about the contestants. 

I don't really want to know that there's been a huge blow-up between them or anything like that and have it all taken out of proportion of what actually goes on during the long days that we do, and the amount of kids that came along and the wonderfully talented ones that came along.  I'm not into that sort of publicity.

What I do think we've got though is it's going to, I guess, get people to watch to see if they grow up on television.  Everybody tells me I should be grateful for that.  I would much prefer that they watch because these judges are excellent.  Nicki Minaj, I think, is one of the best judges I've ever worked with.

What makes a good judge I believe is somebody who is honest -- honest with integrity, and not honest just telling somebody they suck and go home and pack your suitcase.  Honest in the fact that you are good but you can improve by doing this.  Any information that they can feed into helping the kids in that short period of time they've got to judge I think is great.

The different angles that they can come from, knowing that it isn't just about the voice and it really does not matter if they sing out of tune a little bit because everybody I've ever seen live sings out of tune -- even the greatest singers in the world.  And of course, if you're making a single nowadays, they'll autotune it anyway.

Is there more that we should be discussing rather than you were pitchy?  I'm so sick of that remark.  Now we're constantly trying to find ways to help them and I think this panel is doing that.

I wanted to ask you with 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?  Could we potentially have a winner who might be a rapper singer like Nicki is?

Nigel Lythgoe: I don't believe so.  I don't think rap really fits into 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 street 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 knows we need it, because there's very little music to get ahold of nowadays. 

I think we've heard the Adele songbook 2,987 times this season because there are melodies there that the kids can latch on to and sing.  It's really difficult nowadays 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.

Above is the concluding portion of Nigel's call. Click here to read the first half.



(Photo credit Fox)


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