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.