Nasty Nigel no more

A top TV mogul uses his fame to do good, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide - -

NIGEL Lyth­goe is a changed man. In Au­gust last year the 59-year-old stepped down as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Amer­i­can Idol.

Three months later, he re­signed as pres­i­dent of Amer­i­can Idol cre­ator Si­mon Fuller’s 19 pro­duc­tion com­pany, then an­nounced a joint ven­ture with Fuller to pro­duce Su­per­stars of Dance.

Most sur­pris­ingly, in midNovem­ber, Lyth­goe, who re­mains co-cre­ator and judge on the US ver­sion of So You Think You Can Dance, placed a full-page ad­ver­tise­ment in en­ter­tain­ment trade pub­li­ca­tion Daily Va­ri­ety call­ing on Hol­ly­wood’s rich and fa­mous to help him tackle child poverty in Los An­ge­les.

What has hap­pened to the man they call ‘‘Nasty Nigel’’? Has he had an epiphany?

Lyth­goe is in Aus­tralia to be a guest judge on the lo­cal ver­sion of So You Think You Can Dance along­side es­tranged wife Bon­nie Lyth­goe (they are not di­vorced), Matt Lee and Ja­son Cole­man.

He says the changes are about tak­ing more con­trol of his des­tiny and giv­ing back to so­ci­ety.

Lyth­goe says his wa­ter­shed came dur­ing film­ing of last year’s Idol Gives Back, a char­ity event fea­tur­ing su­per­stars in­clud­ing Bono, Brad Pitt, Billy Crys­tal, Kiefer Suther­land and Ce­line Dion. The event raised mil­lions of dol­lars for char­i­ties in­clud­ing the Chil­dren’s De­fence Fund, Malaria No More, Save The Chil­dren and the Chil­dren’s Health Fund.

‘‘I’d given a lit­tle bit to char­ity ev­ery now and then, but this was the first time I’d re­ally been in­volved,’’ Lyth­goe says. ‘‘It made me re­alise how much we can do out­side of our nor­mal lives to help oth­ers.

‘‘And it made me re­alise I want to do some­thing with my life other than just mak­ing tele­vi­sion pro­grams.

‘‘There are more me­dia mil­lion­aires in Los An­ge­les than any other city,’’ he says, ex­plain­ing his de­ci­sion to fi­nance the Daily Va­ri­ety ad­ver­tise­ment, ‘‘and we ig­nore the fact of what’s go­ing on there.

‘‘I’m mov­ing into the twi­light of my ca­reer and, to be frank, I thought I don’t want to work as Amer­i­can Idol makes me work. It re­ally is 24/7 and a lot of the time you’re fire­fight­ing prob­lems out­side your con­trol — a per­former’s done some- thing or a par­ent’s said some­thing— and you think ‘this re­ally has noth­ing to do with pro­duc­ing tele­vi­sion’.’’

Lyth­goe sees So You Think You Can Dance and Su­per­stars of Dance as per­fect ve­hi­cles to pur­sue his creative am­bi­tions and push his phil­an­thropic con­cerns. Dance, he says, as with sport, is a great lev­eller.

It doesn’t mat­ter what coun­try you’re from, how rich or poor you are, what your re­li­gion is or whether you’re male or fe­male — you can still achieve if you are will­ing to work.

And dance is joy­ous. What bet­ter ac­tiv­ity is there to cel­e­brate life?

‘‘It makes peo­ple equal and it makes peo­ple val­ued again who may not have felt val­ued in their lives,’’ he says. ‘‘It has an in­tegrity about it. Do­ing Idol and Dance, it’s amaz­ing to see this ‘I’m owed’ qual­ity to a lot of the Idol kids. It’s a form of self­en­ti­tle­ment that dancers don’t have.

‘‘I think dancers have been brought up— even street dancers— re­al­is­ing how hard they have to work at what they do. With a singer, you just get up in the morn­ing, you get in the shower and sing. A dancer can’t do that.’’

The Aus­tralian dancers he has seen so far have im­pressed him, though he wishes they’d loosen up a bit.

‘‘I won­dered what I was go­ing to get in Aus­tralia and what I got to a cer­tain de­gree was a lit­tle bit — and they’re go­ing to hate me for say­ing this — paint by num­bers. Some­one must have said there are eight ba­sic steps,’’ he says.

‘‘What I would like to see now is Aus­tralia de­velop its own style.’’

Help­ing hand:

So You Think You Can Dance cre­ator Nigel Lyth­goe is judg­ing the lo­cal ver­sion of the show.

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