BWW Interviews: Nigel Lythgoe Talks Dance Crews, Broadway, and Justin Bieber
While the spectacle of AMERICAN IDOL, THE VOICE, and DANCING WITH THE STARS can be extremely entertaining, for true fans of creativity and self-expression through art, there is no better show on television than SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE.
The 11th season of SYTYCD begins this Wednesday, May 28th at 8:00/7:00 C. Recently I participated in a conference call with the show's creator, Executive Producer, and judge Nigel Lythgoe. In the excerpts from the conversation below, Uncle Nigel talked about the changes for this season, SYTYCD alums on Broadway, and Justin Bieber... yep Justin Bieber (bonus points if you can pick out the questions I asked).
Back in January you mentioned that you were going to do something with dance crews. How is that going to work in context with the rest of the competition?
Obviously, we don't want to get in the way of the main competition. So this is going to be occurring over the audition shows. We're going to introduce two crews in each show, and ask the public to tweet which crew out of the two that they would like to see perform on the actual stage live. (The crew) with the highest tweets will perform on the finale.
That's going to be presented by Justin Bieber. He's a huge So You Think You Can Dance fan. He watched it in Canada, and here in America; he loves it and is going to be presenting that part of the show. We really do want to keep it separate from the individual competition.
Are there are other major changes to the formula?
We're going back to the individual winner. We've been quite lenient in the past and said, "Which is your favorite male? Which is your favorite female?" but we're going to make America choose.
It's been an interesting Broadway season for some of your choreographers with Spencer Liff working on HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH and Sonya Tayeh working with KUNG FU. With the success of your choreographers and contestants, can you talk about how important this competition has become for the world of dance, to get these artists exposed to a larger audience?
Yes, I think it's something that we didn't originally realize how it important it would be for the choreographers. We focused on the dancers and what the dancers had to do, but of course it's just as important for what the choreographers do.
We sort of gave faces to choreographers. So it had a major impact, I think, on choreography with wonderful choreographers like Mia Michaels, Sonya, and Wade Robson involved.
Now, of course, the dancers are training themselves, since they were sort of eight and nine years of age, to come on to SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. So consequently, they are putting a lot more into their curriculum, different styles, and I think we've put the street kids together with the formally trained kids, and that gives a totally different element and style to these dancers now.
It just gives them much more commerciality, because they can do so much more. So, from that point of view, it's always great to come down to New York and watch Broadway shows that the kids are in, whether it's AFTER MIDNIGHT, NEWSIES, or any of them.
But, we're going to be doing-I'm going to be part of the team that's producing an AMERICAN IN PARIS early next year. We're opening in Paris in November/December, and hopefully the winner of So You Think You Can Dance will be offered a part in an American in Paris as well. So it all ties in at the end of the day doesn't it?
Absolutely. You've been very vocal on social media about needing people to tune in so that hopefully there could be a Season 12. Has FOX given you any indication what this season has to do, numbers wise, to continue moving forward next year?
No, FOX has never really said anything about what they hope to achieve with it. It's an undiluted audience. So their advertising, their sales teams, know exactly who to sell commercials to, and I think we've been successful across the years because of that.
It's desperate times almost for all of the broadcasters with the web coming so strongly through and the cable guys coming through. It's tough times all around. So we are just going to have to do really well. Like most shows now, everything that you do is based on your figures of that season not on past history.
Do you think though that a show like yours, which has always taken its subject matter very seriously while remaining entertaining while the other types of competitions may be are struggling a little bit more now? Do you think that maybe that gives you a better chance in this landscape because you've always had a hard-core audience that takes this show very seriously, and it can be maybe less trendy?
I just think dance in itself, especially how we treat it, we're not putting celebrities in it. When it comes to the competition, it isn't like DANCING WITH THE STARS that you can watch for various reasons. We're just deeply focused on dance, the different styles, the different genres.
And we haven't got anybody saying, "Pack your suitcase; you're going home next week." We're saying, "Point your toes. Straighten your leg," which of course doesn't appeal to everybody. So we know what we are, and we've always said, "We're the little program that could."
I believe in our strength. But, like most shows, we've been losing viewers and the viewing figures have been going down. I would certainly like to bolster them up, if not keep them the same as last year.
You've had some amazing celebrity judges on the show as guests. Who would you like to see as a celebrity judge?
So many, to be frank with you, and you can't always get it right. Once you start using professional performers and artists they're never really going to be as honest as they want to be because they don't want to lose fans. So you've got to be very careful how you do it.
There are wonderful people like Christina Applegate who really are honest in their opinion and couch it very nicely rather than being rude, as others well try and do on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. We all try and be creative, but there's only so much that you can say.
I guess I would've loved people that sort of give us the credibility of dance, like Baryshnikov, certainly in the ballroom field, Pierre Dulaine, who I've just done that move with DANCING IN JAFFA. He knows what he's talking about, and he knows what he's looking for. In the world of tap, it would've been great to have had Savion Glover on.
I just love that revolving chair that gives us so many different people. We've just used Fabrice Calmels from Joffery Ballet, who's this six-foot-five ballet dancer. He was really very nice and pleasant, a good-looking guy. Tara Lipinski, your Olympic gold medalist, was absolutely terrific as a judge.
So you try people out. You don't have to have them every single week. Misty Copeland came on as a judge. We had good people this year, (they) were honest in their critiques and entertaining, because at the end of the day we have to entertain people who are not necessarily interested in dance.
Last year was the first time when you had to do one show a week instead of two. I know you hated the idea. More people are doing it now. DANCING WITH THE STARS started to have just one night a week this year, and it looks like IDOL, at least part of next year, will have only one night a week. How do you feel about that now?
When it comes to one night a week to fit every dance in and then just do the vote as well, it's really difficult, even in a two-hour show, to sort of say, "These are the dancers in danger, and they are now going to dance again." We might be sending a kid home who dances brilliantly that week and then we send him home and the audience goes, "How can you send them home? They've just danced brilliantly."
So it's really difficult in the one show, to show people off, to then say they're in the bottom three and then cut them when they've performed brilliantly in that show. It's really tough. I'd much prefer a second night even so that you can take everything in, make the decisions and then say they're going home after a nice big routine that they all can be part of.
I don't like it. I've never liked it, but I totally understand again if we're not getting the viewers for that show why they would cut it. You've always got to put yourself in the place of the people making those decisions and then figure out if it makes sense or not. Unfortunately, I think it does make sense to put it as one night, but I can't say I'm happy about it.
There always seems to be a lot of camaraderie among the dancers even though the stakes are so high every week. Does that surprise you or any of the other judges?
Not in the slightest. One of the major things about dance is the minute you hold somebody's hand and look in their eyes you've got some form of communication. It builds bridges. Like I've said with the dancing in the Jaffa movie, we've actually got Israelis dancing with Palestinians.
Dance creates communities, and that's why we've been doing so much with the Dizzy Feet Foundation in inner cities, because it really does give people self-confidence. It does give them a discipline and an etiquette. I truly believe it makes you a better human being. You become reliant on people, and you trust people. It builds trust.
So that's why the camaraderie is there, and every one of them-you'd think we're the worst program in the world. We should be sponsored by Kleenex. Every one of them cries their eyes on when anyone else leaves. And I keep saying to them, "Well, the more people that leave makes you a winner," but it doesn't seem to work. They just all care for each other.
You often introduce a new dance style of something of international influence, like Bollywood, in the season. Can we expect any new dances like that this season?
Well I'm still shocked at what's happening in America. There's an awful lot of sort of underground dance-like jitting and bopping, Memphis-I can't even remember them now I'm afraid-Oakland's got Turfing. Memphis has got Jookin. So we want to try and show these different sort of urban folk dances that are happening now, and they all go under the banner of hip-hop, but there are many more sort of divisions of it.
It's like a couple years ago now we introduced animation, which I'm still sort of thrilled with seeing that happening. We've got a couple of great exponents of hip-hop and girls too, a lady called Mary Poppins. Her real name is Marie but she calls herself Mary and because she's popping she calls herself Mary Poppins. She is magical, to be frank. So there are some really good exponents of these styles.
Nigel, you talked about going back to the one winner, as opposed to having the male winner and the female winner. How is that going to change how the show works each week? Are we still going to have two contestants eliminated or will it go back to a top 10 rather than a top 20? How's the process going to work on a week-to-week basis?
From 20 to 10 exactly the same, three people, we'll save one and then make our decision who will be going home. The judges will do that. That will be voting individually for them rather than as couples. It's always difficult as couples, because one might be stronger than the other and they both get cut. Then from ten to nine, the judges are going to drop out all together this season, and the lowest vote will go home.
You've mentioned some of the guest judges you had during auditions, and I'm sure there are booking decisions still to be made throughout the course of the season, but do you have any special guests or choreographers already booked for this season or any specific that you know are going to be there once you get to the live shows?
Yes, we've just been to New York and met quite a few new choreographers. When I say new, new to us, which to be frank with you I can't name at this time. Not because I don't want to but because I can't remember.
We've got a lot of good guest judges, as I've mentioned already, Tara Lipinski was terrific. Irina Dvorovenko was very interesting, ballerina who was very honest. "You have good feet. Your face is ugly," a very interesting character. What she actually meant was that the lady in question wasn't performing, but had an interesting way of announcing that.
Obviously, Adam Shankman is back. Christina Applegate is back. Jenna Dewan was tremendous. Jenna Elfman is coming back. Little Buck, who's an incredible Memphis Juker, is back. I don't know if you know him, but he did this wonderful dying swan to Yo-Yo Ma and it's really worth looking at when you think of hip-hop being done to classical music. Wayne Brady is back. Billy Porter, there you go, Broadway, Billy Porter from KINKY BOOTS is a judge.
Did he film something during auditions or is he coming when you guys-
No, he did the auditions.
The premiere of Season 11 for So You Think You Can Dance airs on Wednesdsay, May 28th, 8:00/7:00C on FOX. BroadwayWorld will be your home for the best SYTYCD coverage, so check back after the premiere and everyweek. You can also connect with me on Twitter @BWWMatt.