Nigel Lythgoe: 'American Idol' 'Uplifted the Music Industry,' But Mariah & Nicki Were a Mistake

Nigel Lythgoe
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Nigel Lythgoe arrives at the GREAT British Film Reception held at The London West Hollywood on Feb. 20, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. 

"Mariah and Nicki was just crazy, and then it really started becoming about the judges and took away from the contestants altogether," the former producer tells Billboard.

When did former American Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe learn of the Fox show's fate -- that season 15 would be its last? Minutes before taking the stage at The Meredith Viera Show, when a message came from his son -- and, soon after, a Fox publicist -- delivering the news.

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Speaking to Billboard a couple of hours later, Lythgoe -- who executive produced the show from seasons one through seven, then sat out seasons eight and nine, and returned for seasons 10, 11 and 12 -- says he agrees with the decision to pull the plug.

"It's the right thing to do," said Lythgoe, adding that it's about preserving the show's legacy. "I'm a huge fan of boxing, and it's like when you're watching a real heavyweight boxer getting to the end of their career, and all these young whippersnappers are coming up: You've got to know when to retire."

'American Idol' Ending With Season 15

That's not to diminish from the show's impact -- not just on television, where "there's never been anything like it beforehand," boasts Lythgoe, but also for the music industry. "It brought people's attention to buying records," he said. "Judging by the amount of sales, whether it's downloading or actually purchasing a [physical product], Idol uplifted the music industry without question."

As for the judges' public profiles, Lythgoe believes the show was key for the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, but he admits that hiring Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey to share the table was a mistake.

"Mariah and Nicki was just crazy, and then it really started becoming about the judges and took away from the contestants altogether," Lythgoe told Billboard. "I think that was a major failing on the part of casting to have those two together. On their own, either one may have been successful."

Looking back on his time with the show, Lythgoe offers that there are no losers -- pointing to Jennifer Hudson, who "came in sixth and I consider her a winner."

Indeed, it's all in what you make of the opportunity. "I don't believe that being rejected from Idol is the finale to your life or that you give up," he says. "You come back and you fight harder and you win."


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