Nigel Lythgoe: 'Idol' Not Trying to Match 'The X Factor'

Executive producer says veteran series must react to awards shows and 'Glee;' downplays row with Simon Cowell

Returning to American Idol this
pivotal 10th season, executive producer
Nigel Lythgoe says the show
has to constantly raise its game, and not just
because The X Factor is joining the Fox lineup
this fall. Lythgoe claims that despite Idol’s production
values looking bigger this year —an X
staple—the look is not a direct attempt
to match the new Simon Cowell-produced talent
show debuting next season. In fact, Lythgoe
says that would be a losing battle.

Instead, the producer is focused on rising
above precedents set by awards shows and
even Fox’s own Glee. Lythgoe spoke about
the improbable ratings this season for the
10-year-old Idol, and what lies ahead, with
B&C’s Ben Grossman. An edited transcript of
their conversation follows.

How is the season going so far?

I’m very pleased with it, in truth. When you lose
your star, or stars, and you’ve been around for
10 years, it’s really good to still be successful.

Are you relieved with the ratings?

(Huge laugh) Yes, you could say that.

What has been the biggest surprise of
the season?

Everyone said Simon leaving would be the
end of the show, but obviously it’s down to
the format. The fit of the new judges was a
huge surprise on the road.
Does the show feel bigger this year from
a production standpoint?
I’m pleased it does. And the music integrity is
stronger. We have Glee now to contend with. We
don’t want to be Glee, even though it’s huge—we
want to feel like this is a rock music show. Look
at the CMAs, it was amazing, the Grammys. We
were slipping behind, and technologically, things
have changed in the last 10 years.

X Factor is coming in the fall. How has
that affected

And (NBC’s) The Voice is coming first. Everything
like that is going to dilute the genre, the talent
show genre. But certainly X Factor is a fantastic
show out of England, huge production values
we couldn’t keep up with if we wanted to. So we
need to concentrate on the heart of the show, the
simplicity of the show, the integrity of the show.

But it seems like Idol is starting to look
more like
X Factor?

It’s a difficult question to answer, because we
aren’t the same type of program. Why would
you do the same program? Fox [isn’t] stupid,
they know the two can live side by side. I think
they can live together. It’s great we’re on the same
network and will never be against each other.

You have said in the British press that
X Factor is not a talent show. You really
feel that way?

Let me put that into perspective. I was asked
the difference between So You Think You Can
and X Factor. I said X Factor
has all the fun of the circus, which the
British public love. That is what Simon
does very well, he gets characters on
(X Factor) we love to hate, like (British
version contestant) Wagner. I can’t do
that, I have to keep the integrity. Then
it gets printed Simon has lost the integrity—
I basically said what they printed,
but not how it was printed. I always
complimented Simon, said he knows
exactly what he is doing.

How will X Factor do in America?

I think it will do very well because
of Simon, and he’s well loved here.
How well? If I knew that, I would
always make successful programs.

Simon has said Idol is better this year.
Does his opinion matter to you?

I think he was being generous. Without question,
the talent is better. We had to make changes
because our star
 wasn’t in it. With his decision to
leave, it forced us into being creative and doing
the spring cleaning. It’s a 10-year-old lady—she’s
been around a long time and was getting weary.
Simon’s opinion always matters to me. I think
we have a mutual respect. I hope so, anyway.

What do you think of The Voice?

I don’t know the program well enough. I love
the concept, not being able to see the person
and just making a decision on the voice. But it’s
a little dangerous—we all know you don’t just
buy a record because people sound good. I guess
it’s about judges and mentoring. If they have the
same production values as X Factor, who knows?
They have good mentors, by the look of it.

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