Nigel Lythgoe Wants Paula Abdul Back On ‘American Idol’

Producer talks about his plans to refresh the show in season 10.

We still don’t have an update on the judging panel that will greet contestants for the upcoming 10th season of “American Idol.” But now that former executive producer Nigel Lythgoe has confirmed that he’s returning to the show, the witty Brit and “So You Think You Can Dance” judge has hinted about some of the changes he wants to make.

One of his first ideas is to bring back one of the show’s most beloved judges: Paula Abdul . Lythgoe told Daily Variety that despite her commitment to headline a new dancing show on CBS, he’d love to get Abdul back in the “Idol” fold. “I still love Paula,” he said. “She’s signed to CBS, probably exclusively, but I’d recommend we have her in a heartbeat.”

Lythgoe would not discuss the rumored imminent deals to bring in Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler as replacements for Ellen DeGeneres and Simon Cowell, but Variety reported that he gave a “thumbs up” to both. “They can knock her film career, but (audiences) know she’s a good actress,” he said of Lopez, who has struggled at the box office of late with a string of duds. “And as J-Lo, she has had some great pop records. If she joins, I’m happy.”

And despite some recent issues that landed him back in rehab after decades of sobriety, a nasty near split with his longtime band and some erratic behavior, Lythgoe said he likes Tyler for his unpredictable nature. “He has come through that whole rock ‘n’ roll circus,” Lythgoe said of the wiry 62-year-old rock icon. “Why wouldn’t you want a legend there? You never know what he’s going to say. That, as a TV producer, you’re interested in.”

Lythgoe shot down rumors that he might seat himself at the judges’ panel, but seemed to secure lone original judge Randy Jackson’s place at the table, referring to the producer and former Journey bassist as a “barnacle.” He did not address rumors that two-season judge songwriter Kara DioGuardi might be on her way out. Spokespeople for Lopez, DioGuardi and Tyler have not returned requests for comment.

Once known as “Nasty Nigel” for his sharp barbs on the U.K. shows “Pop Idol” and “Pop Stars,” Lythgoe said the reason “Idol” was criticized last year was because the judging panel simply didn’t gel. “It’s not because I disliked any of them, but the chemistry wasn’t there,” he said. “It almost felt like Simon Cowell turned his back on Ellen. It felt uncomfortable.”

He would also like to see a renewed focus on the singers rather than the revolving door on the judge’s panel. “Where did Ne-Yo or Chris Brown come from?” he asked. “Where did Justin Bieber come from? Where are these kids. That has got to be the priority, more than anything. More than the judges’ panel.” Referring to his tweaks as “spring cleaning” rather than a face-lift, Lythgoe also suggested he’d like to pare back the reliance on the telling and re-telling of contestants’ backstories.

Though he won’t be sitting behind the table, the music man with the Midas touch, Interscope head Jimmy Iovine (Eminem, U2, Dr. Dre), will have what the Los Angeles Times described as a “significant” role in the show next season as well. Quoting unnamed sources close to the situation, the paper reported that Iovine is unlikely to be a judge, but could serve as “mentor of sorts.”

The news comes as “Idol” prepares to switch its record deal from a longtime pact with Sony Music to the Universal Music Group — Iovine is chairman of Universal’s Interscope Geffen A&M label. Iovine’s long tenure at Interscope and impressive track record could help bolster a judging panel that will be missing Simon Cowell’s music business experience.

Lythgoe isn’t the only one talking “Idol” these days. Fox boss Rupert Murdoch spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his network’s crown jewel and promised that the show would be better next season.

“All I can assure you is that next year’s ‘Idol’ will be different,” Murdoch said. “It will be better, the music will certainly be better. And we got great expectations for it.” As for the eagerly anticipated announcement of the new judging panel, Murdoch was mum, promising only that, “We are very close to announcing who the judges will be. … There are very active negotiations with a number of people.”

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