Nasty Nigel no more
A top TV mogul uses his fame to do good, writes Colin Vickery
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.’’
So You Think You Can Dance creator Nigel Lythgoe is judging the local version of the show.