The Lythgoes Go Country

3:19 PM PST 02/10/2011 by Shirley Halperin
Jordan Nuttall

‘American Idol’s’ Nigel and Simon Lythgoe prep a country-music competition show for CMT.

The Brits are going country. American Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and his son Simon are teaming for a new singing-competition series. CMT’s Next Superstar — from Legacy Prods. and Big Red 2, owned by Nigel and Simon, respectively — is in production and slated for 10 episodes beginning in April on the Viacom-owned, Nashville-based country music network. The winner will be announced during the CMT Awards in June, with a single to be released in tandem. “Country music is all about storytelling, personalities and pouring yourself into the songs,” says Nigel, 61. “This show is not about going to a set, it’s about being in a location that has history to it. We’re down and dirty in the heart of Nashville.” That means the cast could cut vocals at Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and others made seminal records. Or they might visit an Army base as part of a patriotic theme. “I’d like to take them to a prison and have them write a song about retribution or why they should mend their ways,” adds Simon, 36, recalling Cash’s classic live album At Folsom Prison. Judges have yet to be determined, but the show’s finale will be held at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, a former home of the Grand Ole Opry. It’s is not the first time the Lythgoes have worked together. Simon, whose mother is former dancer Bonita Shawe, has been a producer on Idol since 2002, tasked with shooting Carrie Underwood in her hometown of Checotah, Okla., during Season 4. Now he is taking the lead as Nashville-based showrunner for the CMT show, with Nigel staying in Los Angeles on the Idol set. The elder Lythgoe credits his progeny for bringing the original Idol idea to his attention. In 1999, Simon was a young producer on the Australian version of Pop Stars, the inspiration for Pop Idol and later American Idol. “Simon has a lot to do with this entire genre of shows,” Nigel says. “It’s how this whole crazy situation began.”

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