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4 YEARS

Nigel Lythgoe: ‘American Idol’ Needed ‘Warmth’ This Season

The show's executive producer tells THR the Simon Cowell era was "a different time."

Nigel Lythgoe 2011 Winter TCA
Frank Micelotta / FOX

While some American Idol viewers no doubt miss the presence of Simon Cowell, it’s unlikely that many of season 10’s contestants are lamenting the loss of his biting criticisms and harsh words, usually preceded by “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” So we wondered: what was the vibe behind the scenes this year? Is working on Idol a nicer, gentler experience? 

We posed the question to Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe who says now “is a different time” and that the recent economic crisis calls for “warmth.” Lythgoe explains:    “[In the early seasons] we said, ‘We're going to be tough, we're going to be honest, and we might cross the line.’ Not as far as Ricky Gervais, but sometimes we did and the rest of the time we were pretty honest. If Simon felt like a kid had spent a lot money getting singing lessons, and would never be singer, he'd turn around and say, ‘Sue your singing teacher. Get your money back.’ We felt that was the right thing to do at the time, and Simon made a star of himself around the world with that role. There's nobody that has been able to do that with the honesty that Simon has done.   This is a different time. We can't replace what Simon was… What we could do is go in a completely different direction. Now with the economic crisis that we are in, we need warmth. I think a true mark of any program maker is judging the times and society at the [moment] their program goes out. And I believe these are times when we need to be warmer, brighter, and think we have a future. If we can translate that to kids coming on the show -- from flipping burgers one day to ending up as a star on a television series -- then we are showing everybody that there’s a way out of our lives at this moment in time. Randy [Jackson], Steven [Tyler], and Jennifer [Lopez], they provide that warmth at this time.”