Ten days after widespread reports that he was returning to the show first surfaced, Fox has announced that Lythgoe will return to American Idol and resume his former role as one of the show's executive producers.
Lythgoe will executive produce American Idol's upcoming tenth season with Simon Fuller, Cecile Frot-Coutaz and Ken Warwick -- all of whom he previously worked with before leaving the show in 2008 to focus on So You Think You Can Dance, the Idol-like Fox reality dancing competition he co-created with Fuller, who created both Idol and its British Pop Idol predecessor.
"I am so happy to be welcoming Nigel back to the Idol family. He is, without a doubt, the most accomplished executive producer I have ever worked with. Nigel helped to define the show I created almost 10 years ago, mentoring our judging panel and nurturing our talent. His unbridled passion has been missed," Fuller said.
"This year, with Idol celebrating our 10th season as the world's biggest and most powerful TV show, I felt it was an important time to collaborate with Nigel once again to help redefine American Idol and take us through to the next incarnation of the show."
Lythgoe's return is expected to go smoothly given American Idol never named a new executive producer to replace him and he has continued to work with Fuller on both So You Think You Can Dance and Big Red 2 Entertainment, a production company the pair co-founded after Lythgoe's Idol exit.
"Since we launched the original Pop Idol in England, I've remained close with Simon Fuller," Lythgoe said. "American Idol became a juggernaut of epic proportions, but to me it was always like home. I am elated and honored to be rejoining childhood friend and fellow executive producer Ken Warwick, and look forward to creating more magic."
Lythgoe's American Idol return is not expected to impact his judge and executive producer roles on So You Think You Can Dance, which airs its American edition in the summer after Idol's season ends and its British edition early in the year before Idol's performance and results shows begin.
"I will still [do] SYTYCD US. I will still do SYTYCD UK and I've been invited up to SYTYCD Canada as a guest. Dance is my passion," he wrote in a Twitter posting on Thursday.
However one thing that is widely expected to change significantly is AmericanIdol's judging panel -- which quickly became the subject of heavy speculation after reports of Lythgoe's return surfaced given the producer had been an outspoken critic of the show's decisions to add Kara DioGuardi and expand to a four-judge panel and then replace Paula Abdul with Ellen DeGeneres in the two seasons that followed his departure.
Earlier this year, Lythgoe, who has reportedly signed a two-year Idol deal, had repeatedly told reporters he would address Simon Cowell decision to leave the show last May by replacing its entire judging panel if he were still in charge.
"I'd lose the fourth judge, I don't like four judges. I'd keep Ryan Seacrest and probably change the whole panel to go with [Elton John]," Lythgoe told the New York Post in March.
"I would replace the entire judging panel," he told Zap2it in April. "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 hasn't worked out as well as we would have hoped."
Fox ended up announcing DeGeneres had decided to leave her American Idol judging role after just a single season a few days after reports of Lythgoe's return emerged, and the subsequent days have featured numerous reports that Jennifer Lopez and Steve Tyler will be joining remaining judge Randy Jackson on a new three-person panel for the show's tenth season.
The network has declined to comment on the reports, however Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice recently told reporters "much of the information [in the media] is accurate and some of it is wildly inaccurate" and said Idol's tenth-season judging panel will be announced by the time the season's nationwide callback auditions with the judges begin in mid-September.
"The only thing I can tell you is that no one has signed a deal yet on either side of the camera to be on American Idol who wasn't on the show last year," he told reporters at the network's Television Critics Association's summer press tour presentation on Monday.
Lythgoe echoed Rice's comments about the status of the show's judging panel -- which definitely won't include himself, he insisted -- in several media interviews about his Idol return.
"[It's] going to take a little while yet," he told USA Today, adding that he still favors returning to a three-judge panel but is receptive to four judges if it brings the right "adversarial and humorous touches."
However Lythgoe also feels Idol's judges have become too big a part of the show's focus in recent years.
"At the end of the day, the fundamental thing about American Idol is that you take the burger-flipper and turn him into a star, with America's help in choosing," he said.
"My concerns were over the last couple of years, we've lost sight of the fact that the most important people on the show are the young artists," he said. "It revolved around Kara coming in to make four judges, which often left no time for them to talk. Then it was about Paula leaving, and then about Ellen joining," he told Variety.
But that doesn't mean viewers can expect to see a completely different show when Idol's tenth season premieres in January, according to Lythgoe.
"It's going to have a face lift, but it's not going to be fundamental change," he told USA Today.
Increasing the production values of the contestants' singing performances and updating Idol's semifinals and Hollywood rounds are among the ideas Lythgoe is promoting, along with dropping the show's weekly mentor format and reducing its focus on tough-luck backstories.
In addition, Lythgoe -- who also unsuccessfully publicly attempted to woo Abdul to So You Think You Can Dance as a guest judge last year -- told Variety he still like to find a way to bring back Abdul, who left American Idol in a 2009 salary dispute and recently signed a deal to star in Got to Dance, a new upcoming CBS reality competition.
"I still love Paula," he said. "She's signed to CBS, probably exclusively, but I'd recommend we have her in a heartbeat."
With Abdul an unlikely possibility, Lythgoe also freely offered his opinions about Lopez, Tyler and several other singers that have previously been reported to be under consideration for Idol's tenth-season judging panel.
"She's had a brilliant career. She has been inspirational to so many kids. The credentials are incredible for her to be able to judge anybody. She is one of the warmest people that I've met; she's done So You Think You Can Dance a number of times now. She knows the business and is tough. She'll be honest about it," he told USA Today about Lopez.
"Tyler is a rock legend, and he's been through the worst part of it, too. I think he would probably be the one I would be interested to turn on to watch, not knowing what he was going to say and where he's going to come from. As a TV producer, I love that," he added about the Aerosmith lead singer.
However Lythgoe admitted that, as he said in March, John is still his top choice for the panel.
"I would put (him) in first place for me because I know him so well. I've worked with him and seen his talent. He can be bitchy. He is obviously knowledgeable. I don't know if you saw [his 1997 documentary] Tantrums and Tiaras. An Elton John tantrum is certainly worth tuning in for,"
Lythgoe also addressed several other rumored judging possibilities -- including Harry Connick Jr. and Shania Twain -- with the newspaper.
"Lovable, I think. He is a housewife's choice. very much looks-wise in the (Simon) Cowell mold, dark, cool, good-looking. He has a knowledge of music, right across the board. Plus, he has great warmth and humor, and humor for me would be the thing to tie a panel together," he said of Connick.
"Shania's terrific. Again, she's had a great career. She's turned country music into pop music. I think you would choose either Shania or Jennifer, but I do not think you would have the two on the same panel. Either one of them is tremendous. I know Jennifer, so of course I'm going to root for Jennifer," he added about Twain.
He also rejected speculation that Cowell's decision to leave AmericanIdolto launch an American adaptation of his British The X Factor singing competition on Fox in Fall 2011 will destroy Idol's ratings.
"People say it's all over, yet it works in 70-odd countries without Simon Cowell," Lythgoe told Variety.
"It just lost ratings with Simon Cowell still in the show," he added, referring to the slow, ongoing ratings decline Idol -- which has nonetheless still remained No. 1 in each year's television ratings -- has been experiencing since its 2007 sixth season.