'Idol' producer talks Emmy odds, 'X Factor,' openly gay contestants


Image Credit: Fox

Coming off a revived American Idol and another season of So You Think You Can Dance, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe has two series and two hosts (Ryan Seacrest and Cat Deeley) nominated for Emmy Awards this year. Idol in particular hopes to break its streak of being nominated for outstanding competition series a record nine times straight without a win. Lythgoe spoke to EW about Emmy odds, how Simon Cowell’s The X Factor will perform, and tackled a rival’s claim that Idol “hides” openly gay contestants.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Idol has been the most popular show on TV for years, and has spawned many imitators, yet has never won the competition Emmy. Is that fair?
NIGEL LYTHGOE: I’m certainly at this point in time not going to moan about the Academy members. I can’t say it’s annoying, but you just hope you’re going to get it. I’m not one of those people who think it’s wonderful to be nominated again, I would like to win it. There’s no question about it.

Do you think Idol can break its streak this year?
I think it’s fair to say if Idol doesn’t win it this year I don’t really ever see it winning. We had such goodwill this year from everybody. The program itself was very strong. It isn’t just about ratings or we would have won it every year. There’s no question Amazing Race is a beautifully produced show. We’re totally different. We’re live the night we do it and make up an entirely new show the next night again. It’s really comparing apples and oranges. But if you look at the actual content from when we first hit air until we closed with our finale with Lady Gaga and Beyonce, it’s remarkable. If it were me, I’d take all that into account.

Obviously the revamp worked, the ratings didn’t miss a beat. Yet some said, “Oh, Idol judges were too nice.” 
I stand by the fact that because the judges were nice we had some brilliant talent. They gave them the opportunity of sticking around and improving. Whereas in previous years, you may have screwed up and been sent home much earlier on. And they did improve, James [Durbin] got better and Haley [Reinhart] was brilliant at the end of it.

Every recent season you tweak the Idol format to keep things fresh. What are some things you’re considering for next season?
We have to. Last season we replaced the middle rounds. We did the Beatles show and shot in an aircraft hanger. There’s one or two thoughts I’d like to steal from Dance this season. We continually talk and try to be creative with a format that doesn’t need much tweaking.

You probably saw NBC’s The Voice judge Adam Levine saying Idol should show openly gay contestants. What do you think of that and could that change next season?
To be frank, I didn’t understand why we’re talking about contestants being gay or not gay. I don’t go into my dentist and say, “Are you gay?” I don’t say to contestants on So You Think You Can Dance, “Are you gay?” What does it got to do with me? What does it got to do with anybody? When does privacy stop in this country? If somebody wants to say they’re gay, it’s up to them. You don’t expect us to turn around and say, “Are you gay?” Why would we do that? — “By the way, he’s a Catholic and he supports Obama and here’s his sexuality” — what does that have anything to do with singing talent? Maybe it does for Adam Levine, but not for me.

So the reason nobody has been openly gay on Idol is that it’s up to the contestant.
Did [season eight Idol contestant] Adam Lambert come out?

Afterwards, I believe so.
He must have come out before being on Idol, he just didn’t talk about it on Idol. And why should he? Is every actor going on television going to say, “I’m only playing the part of a straight man, I’m really gay”? There’s no reason that I would see why anybody that goes on television should start coming out with who they are, what they are, what they’re sexuality is, who they’re going to vote for or what their religion is.

Simon Cowell said he thought X Factor could draw a bigger rating than Idol. How do you think his show will stack up?
I think it will do well. If it continues the production values it had in the U.K., it will be superb.

On So You Think You Can Dance, Cat landed an Emmy nomination and it’s up for competition series as well.
I would prefer, and I apologize for my entire [Dance] team for saying this, I would prefer American Idol to win an Emmy. And I would also like very much for Cat to reciprocate by winning [as best host], and if she doesn’t, then Ryan Seacrest. It’s sad when you’re up against yourself; it’s, “Which one of your children gets the last sweet.”

Dance hasn’t been officially renewed, but my sense is that it’s coming back?
I hope so. You’re right, it’s not official. But I’m told it’s imminent. I certainly like a lot of the stuff we did this year. I enjoyed quite a few of the guest judges, and enjoyed a talented season of dancers.
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Comments (124 total) Add your comment
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  • Giraffe

    Something about this guy just rubs me the wrong way… it seems like he answers questions by just asking another question. And the thing he said about how “being gay had nothing to do with their singing ability so why mention it” made sense, but how do all the sob stories that they use to pimp contestants every single season have anything to do with their singing ability either? Whether or not a contestant grew up in the ghetto, or if your housed burned down, or you were bullied as a kid has absolutely nothing to do with their singing ability either… I say they get rid of the dramatic, shot-in-slow-motion-as-a-contestant-slowly-walks-down-a-street-with-a-meaningful-look-and-a-voice-over, cheesy background stories all together. If a contestant wants to mention their past, let them do it in the live rounds, and let them just SAY it.Don’t have the dramatic clips ready. It’s pointless to hear all this stuff about someone in the auditions and then they get cut in the Hollywood rounds. It’s a singing competition, not a who has the saddest story competition!

    • Lori Adams

      I’ve heard it’s a very British thing to do, answering a question with a question.

      • wsugar

        I heard it is a very gay british thing.

      • Jethro

        I find it interesting that both his shows are discussing this issue. I hope neither show nor host win anything. The issues are that he always picks his favorites and I feel that he is creepy. His shows are lackluster and need to be cancelled for better reality shows.

    • Hi

      This whole “gay” issue is getting stupid and old. Nobody should have to wave a rainbow flag on TV if they’re gay. TV shows stop people from openly discussing religion and no one has a problem w/ that. TV shows are just that, A SHOW, and they’ll run the show in a way that doesn alienate viewers w/ left side or right side religious, political or sexual preferences! There would be SOOOO much back lash if a singer on Idol tried to discuss their faith in Jesus Christ and their belief that Jesus is the only way. Gay people’s sexual orientation is “who they are” as much as a Christian’s faith, yet it’s “tolerance” when we allow someone Gay to “express who they are” openly but it’s “intolerance” when we afford that same right to a Christian?

      Very. stupid. double. standard. and I’m tired of the whole arguement! Everyone on those shows is hiding “who they really are”…that’s hollywood!

      • Actually, I remember Scotty being Christian and thanking Jesus and wearing a cross around his neck. I’m not saying anything is wrong with that, I’m just saying they don’t tell people not to talk about their religion either.

      • bob

        being gay and being christian are COMPLETELY different, just for the record. also, there are plenty of religious reality tv show contestants. i think the way the voice dealt with some of their gay cast members was tasteful. it wasn’t this big, grandstanding confessional (ie: “my favorite color is blue. i like pizza. i am gay.”). it was always done through the introduction of a significant other or some kind of discussion of how coming out affected their growth as a performer. in that way, it IS important. idol never does this for gay cast members, but is quick to introduce the contestants straight lifestyles. i mean, come on. how many times have we heard about the struggling artist with four kids, a wife, a mortgage, and some other sob story? so lithgow’s argument is complete bs.

      • Keith

        So blind! The “gay” issue is swept under the table while “openly straight” contestants are allowed to wave their “relationship flags.” Idol does not stop contestants from “thanking Jesus” or the Lord, so your argument is bull. You are right that a gay person’s orientation is “who they are,” but they are not allowed to express that with the same freedom that heterosexual people are allowed. Your argument comparing “gay” rights to “religious” in itself undermines your argument and suggests a misunderstanding that leads to intolerance. Religion is a choice. Sexuality is not. (You can argue that being gay is a choice until you’re blue in the face, but science proves otherwise.)

      • wtf

        whatever! people are NEVER stopped when discussing their religion; every single show is FILLED with people espousing what good christians they are.

        So your chosen religion is the same as my being gay? You’re an idiot, much like Nigel.

      • Jo

        I think you are getting stupid. Didn’t Scotty kiss his cross after meeting Gaga? Didn’t he tell his audience at home that he didn’t lose his God over there in the sinful world of Los Angele?. Didn’t Danny Gokey and Kris Allen have as part of their back stories that they were married and Christian as well as church worship leaders? Did Adam’s back story say anything about him being gay? Sorry, but idol covers the religious aspect quite nicely because they know they are catering to the southern conservative christian voters who make up the majority of voters on idol. The “gay” is treated as “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Nigel is full of crap.

      • Strepsi

        @ HI AND NIGEL LYTHGOE: you are absolutely right that it should not be relevant…. EXCEPT…. American Idol MAKES it relevant! Do we just see the contestants perform? No! We see their “backstory” (family, sexuality) and their wives and girlfriends (their sexuality) their church (their religion), their kids (family, sexuality)… in fact the ONLY people who we do not see their significant others are the gay ones.

        NIGEL, IT’S THE HYPOCRISY — if you don’t believe private sexual life is relevant to their singing, stop showing the video packages of people’s damn kids!

      • Michael

        Could you possibly be more clueless? More importantly, you CHOOSE a religion.

    • bb

      Excellent point! On the surface, Nigel makes a fair point that it’s a singing competition, so who cares who is gay, straight, bi. But as you so rightly pointed out, idol is full of non singing ability related content.

      • HoneyB

        And on SYTYCD, he verbally lashed out at a male couple who auditioned, calling their performance disgusting.

      • Cami

        And he has made comments about wanting the male dancers to be masculine and also referencing females lusting after male dancers in some pathetic attempt to whitewash or rather, straightwash some of the gay male dancers. Nigel has a huge problem with homosexuality and that is one reason why his shows do too.

    • Delon

      Good God, what do you expect from a homophobe like Nigel?!? He proved he has the homo panic over and over again on SYTYCD. Were you people watching?He is a closet case himself. That’s why he is over compensating with his creepy old pervert comments to the girls on SYTYCD. This guy is the most fake person on TV.

    • Leslie

      I think he’s saying, it has nothing to do with their singing ability and if they choose to come out on TV, then that’s their choice and if they choose not to, then that is also their choice. Remember, they’re trying to win a competition and be “audience friendly” to everybody, even prejudiced people, because they really want that million dollar recording contract.

      • Maria

        That;s the thing. If it’s contestants’ choice to keep their sexuality under wraps in order to garner votes also from the more narrow-minded, then that is fine. But if they are encouraged not to talk about their sexuality, or outright told not to do it, I have an issue with that. And Nigel Lythgoe, who I by the way like quite a bit in SYTYCD, did not state clearly what the instructions are to the contestants regarding sexuality. And I did not like him pretty much attacking Adam Levine for raising this issue…

    • dcmartin

      He answered that just like Michele Bachmann – lots of dodging and circular talk. Nigel has made MANY an anti-gay snipe on SYTYCD…….no wonder no one says anything on that show. I don’t know how Travis can stand it.

    • mike

      Dude, lighten up. This is a reality show.

    • Anya

      Oh boy!!! People are so blind! The reason for the gay idol contestants not revealing their sexuality while they are on the show is because of the audience, middle America conservative audience. If America is willing to focus on the talent of the kids rather than their private lives, then these kids would have openly talked about who they are. And Nigel, save your “it is up to them BS”. Here is a Tip for you, how about you make the voting 50-50 b/n the judges and the audience and get open minded people to judge the show? That will def erase the possibility of being voted of by the audience because of their sexuality and the focus would completely be on the talent. JS

      • Anya

        oh and btw to those quoting Scotty and his cross kissing thing…… of course scotty isn’t gonna lose votes because he kissed a cross, he is “christian”. Has anyone ever wondered what would happen if we have a “Muslim” contestant who’d talk about his religion? Yup… He would have been labeled as a “Terrorist”! Thats right, the voting public Aka Middle America is the problem. FYI, I am a Muslim and I am NOT a terrorist.

      • jeremy

        No offense, but the majority of people in this country are not gay and most of them are some variation of christian. It’s not just middle america, it”s most of america. Don’t you think it would be in their best interest not to bring up religion or sexuality?

    • MDEP

      I think the real question should have been, does idol tell their contestants to not discuss their sexuality if they are not straight. He is right they it should not matter, but that was not really Adam Levine’s point. His point was more that the show should not hide it, and that is how it comes across. Nigel is a pro at side stepping questions!

  • Simon

    Agree 100% with you giraffe!

    • wsugar

      I agree 95% with Simon.

  • Paul

    Straight people “come out” all of the time, they’re just more subtle about it. Yeah most people don’t go around saying “I”m straight” but they do reference it everyday conversation.

  • Jaded

    Nigel is a giant Dbag! He answers questions like a politician.

    • JayNYC

      And shame on the reporter for not pressing him on the issue of why so many other non-singing-related topics are thrust into our faces.

      • Cami

        Agreed. Crappy reporting.

  • Richard Neely

    You can’t tell me Idol hasn’t squashed the coming out of contestants for whatever reasons. I can think of a dozen gay contestants who made the top 12 in various seasons and not a peep. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with their vocal abilities but it may have tremendous impact on youth that are feeling totally alone and ostracized. I think maybe some involved with the show are/were afraid the gay question hits a little too close to home. ;)

  • TP

    AI and Seacrest do NOT deserve Emmy love. If either does win it will confirm how easy it is to buy an emmy. This guy is creepy.

    • Manny

      Idol should not have even been nominated this year. Very poor production values, cheesy host, ridiculous judges (“That was beautiful…”) and lame contestants.

  • kts63

    What a LYING SACK OF … For god’s sake, straight contestants partners were show and interviewed all the time. We knew who the wives and husbands were… Adam’s boyfriend was never interviewed and when shown once on camera (he was generally framed to not be shown even though he was with Adam’s parents), the chyron showed, “Family and friends”. And Anwar Robinson was an openly gay contestant who was told to not mention it at all.

    • Kris

      It’s sad but their sexuality affects votes. A lot of people wont vote for someone because they’re gay, even if they’re the best (I don’t use Adam Lambert as an example because I think that had more to do with the relentless love he got from judges and the media). Homophobia sucks but it exists and can ruin a performers chances at winning, which is why a lot of them hide it.

    • Cami

      And it actually went beyond Adam’s boyfriend. His father’s longtime girlfriend reported after the show that she was informed she was not welcome in the shots because the show wanted to create the illusion that Adam’s parents were still married to each other so as to make him more appealing to the conservatives who make up their audience. Ironically, the demo with the highest divorce rate in this country are southern, white Christians.

      • Jo

        Yeah, if they won’t show divorced couples, they sure aren’t going to show gay couples.

    • Let

      Adam had only recently began dating Drake when he was on Idol. It is not like he was a long time partner so why would he be a part of Adam’s dream chance? They broke up soon after Idol and Adam was not in love with him. Besides Adam wanted it to be about his singing. Should they have hung a sign around his neck to satisfily the media and the people against his will? If pictures of him kissing an ex, that Adam did not deny, was not enough for you then you have the problem. Have you ever considered that Drake did not want to be paraded out to satisfy you people. The reason most people want to identify who is gay so they will not vote for them by mistake. Or to give their favorites an advantage if the the gay guy is much better. This is all BS. I doubt that most gays competing want their sexuality turned into a big freggin deal. They are people just like the rest of us. If they want to talk about it fine but who the heck are we to demand to know? They never stopped talking about Adam’s sexuality in the press and public. Everyone was going nuts over it so stop pretending that you did not know.

  • Sam

    He missed the point entirely. No contestant NEEDS to come out with their sexuality, but they should feel comfortable doing so. He’s a big bag of bs.

  • alek

    EW, please learn the difference between their and they’re. Thank you.

  • crispy

    Ahem, please explain Danny Gokey’s dead wife then.

    • swthompson

      currently, she’s more popular than Gokey.

      • sarah


  • Michael

    this just makes me not like this guy more. Every straight contestant is able to show off their kids and spouses for votes all they want!

    • SS

      Yep. And the fact that they’re veterans, or 16 years old and singing for their grandma with Alzheimer’s (ughh… don’t even get me started).
      Nigel is 100% creepy and a jerk. I fast-forward through his judging on SYTYCD. The point is, Idol totally backed Scotty and Lauren for being white, country and Christian simply because they thought they might sell more records, NOT because they’re better singers. Stefano, Haley and others in pre-Top 12 got the shaft without good reason.

  • KT

    Nigel is such a tool.

  • jets

    I actually agree with Nigel on this. It was Adam’s choice not to offically state he was gay during Idol’s competition (although everyone knew) and it would have been a violation of his privacy to have “outed” him against his wishes. Adam never talked about his boyfriend, and he could have. I think the relegion comparison works; it shouldn’t matter what relegion they are, just as it shouldn’t matter their sexual orientation, unless the contestant wants to share.

    • Al

      There were other contestants who say they were told not to discuss their same-sex relationships.

      • Bronco

        Most likely, they were ADVISED not to do so as not detract from what they’re actually there to do which is sing, perform, entertain. Being in a straight relationship is not a controversial issue, being in a gay one is.

      • Zzz

        As long as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is in place on Idol, being in a gay relationship will continue to be PERCEIVED as controversial. If contestants like Adam, Clay, Jacob Lusk, etc had broken the barrier on that show, we wouldn’t be talking about it now. Future contestants on The Voice won’t have to face this kind of awkward dilemma – they are free to be whoever they are. But not on Idol.

    • Jo

      WTF! The religion comparison does not work. Scotty, Gokey, Kris Allen and many others were allowed to show their christian affiliations on the show because the majority of voters are conservative christians from the south. Why do you think Adam didn’t win over an very average singer such as Kris? Well, I’ll tell you. It was because Kris was the married chrisitian. Scotty wore that big old cross and kissed it around Gaga and preached to his audience at home. I wonder why he won? Give me a break. The Christian theme is important to the idol audience by the “gay” remains “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

      • Angela

        Kris is so much better than an “average” singer. Can Adam’s fans just accept that not everyone thinks exactly the same way as them? Why is it so hard to just believe that some people actually liked Kris more?

    • Anya

      Had Nigel/producers have modified the voting rules (50-50 b/n audience and judges), I am 100% sure Adam would have talked about it on TV. But why would he, if talking about part of who he is gonna cost him votes? I think Adam played it smart and we all saw it, his talent prevailed and finished big.

  • AIKev

    How can any gay person “comfortably” come out in homophobic USA? Straight guys can hold their girlfriend’s hand and even *gasp!* kiss her in public and nobody would bat an eye. See two guys or two girls do this casually (in other words, not as a television “event”) in a park or restaurant and it would make the 6:00 news. The 11:00 news would then report how this couple was gay-bashed later on their way home.

    I don’t think a REALLY, FOR-SURE (at the time of competing) gay contestant on AI or SYTYCD would garner too many votes, sadly. I mean if they are, you know, MAYBE gay but haven’t flaunted it or anything, then maybe their talent would get them through several rounds. Tadd and Marko on SYTYCD certainly had some gay-looking tendencies from time to time, but it was still ??? about either of them. They made it to the finals. A couple other obviously gay players (Ricky anyone?) couldn’t quite do it. So sad.

    PS: Now Adam Lambert was so obviously gay and good for him. He also had a great talent so he seems to be an exception to the rule. Nobody was “for sure” about Clay Aiken at the time.

  • davey

    One would assume that the winner of the Best Reality Host would atleast be able to end their show on time and not spill over in to the following series (sometimes by 10 minutes)! Cat Deeley ends her show on time every week with moments to spare – and she’s a helluv alot better than Seacrest! SYTYCD literally dances circles around AI for Best Reality Series!

    • Psac

      Absolutely agree.

    • Eurydice

      Cat is fabulous but she’s not Superwoman – there’s a control booth with producers who manage the show. And I can’t imagine how AI could go overtime if the network didn’t allow it.

    • G in PA

      Cat rules. She is so genuine and you can tell she LOVES what she does and the contestants love her back

    • SaraS

      Ummm… Idol is live; SYTYCD is pre-recorded and edited. Of COURSE it finished on time. You can tell that they sometimes cut off judges’ comments.
      Also Cat should never have been nominated. She’s been doing the same thing (her cutesy-cutesy act) every season.

      • Laura

        And Ryan Seacrest doesn’t do the same darn thing every episode, every season? Fake smile, fake tan, entrance down a giant staircase, while everyone else enters at stage level? Team Cat all the way.

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