EP Nigel Lythgoe Talks SYTYCD: The Next Generation and Previews the Live Shows [Exclusive]
I’ve been watching So You Think You Can Dance since it premiered back in 2005. One of the things that’s always impressed me is the outstanding quality of the dancing. Now don’t get me wrong, I do remember a time during the audition shows where we saw some truly awful dancing. But those people never made it very far and if it really bothered me, I just fast-forwarded through it.
While I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching good dancers become great, I love that Season 13 focuses on “The Next Generation.” I was skeptical at first, but over the course of watching the auditions and seeing the finalists make their way through choreography and sometimes entirely new dance styles, I have to say I’ve got serious respect for these pint-sized dancers. This top 10 is truly amazing.
I had the chance to talk to EP and judge Nigel Lythgoe last week about the new direction for the show this season, why they decided to add Maddie Ziegler into the mix, those tough Academy episodes and what he expects to see when the live shows start this week.
TV GOODNESS: I love that you guys are focusing on 8 â€“ 13 year-olds this season although when you announced it I was a little skeptical. How did you guys come to that decision?
Nigel Lythgoe: “Iâ€™m with you, by the way. I was extremely skeptical. It started when I used little Phoenix dancing with Cyrus on the finale last year. I said something â€“ weâ€™re live so itâ€™s always off the top of your head â€“ but I said something like, â€˜We should do a series with you little guys. That was terrific.â€™
I didnâ€™t know what I was getting myself into and FOX would pick up on that and say, â€˜We want to do it. It looks great. It was fabulous, it’s getting the best of both worlds.â€™ And I was like, â€˜Oh. I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t know if theyâ€™re gonna be any good, these kids. I donâ€™t want to do something like any other program that deals with kids. I donâ€™t like all the makeup on kids and everything. Iâ€™m not sure I wanna do this.â€™
And then as soon as we went out on the road and saw the incredible talent that these kids have got, I was thrilled. I mean, I promise you, these kids werenâ€™t even alive when this program started and this is the next generation of dancers.
Iâ€™m extremely proud of what has developed over these years starting with things like National Dance Day and the Dizzy Feet Foundation. My sights are a lot bigger than just a single television show that might disappear any year. It really is to try and keep America talking about dance and getting people to dance. I just believe that dance means a great deal to a lot of kids in order to express their feelings and their emotions, which they canâ€™t always do verbally or theyâ€™re not allowed to do at home.
So, itâ€™s a big part of my life you know? I used to rush to see incredible ballet dancers like [Rudolf] Nureyev do 4 or 5 pirouettes. These kids are doing 12, 13 and 14 pirouettes now. Itâ€™s a whole different generation, a bit like the Olympics â€“ [they]Â just break world records. Dancers now are starting to do that as well, I believe. Theyâ€™re jumping higher. Theyâ€™re doing more pirouettes. Itâ€™s stunning to see.”
TV GOODNESS: Yeah. The way they move their bodies is pretty amazing and the fact that they start so young and are so good, I love that weâ€™re seeing that.
Nigel:Â “So itâ€™s gonna be a whole new show on Monday as well because I havenâ€™t seen how theyâ€™re gonna be dancing with their all-star partner. So that is gonna be very interesting.”
TV GOODNESS: I was gonna ask about that. What can we expect on Monday or will we literally be finding out at the same time as you will?
Nigel: “Iâ€™ve insisted that I donâ€™t see any of the rehearsal during the week. I donâ€™t want to have any opinions before I see them do the routine. And I think thatâ€™s fair enough.
All I warn against is I donâ€™t want to feel uncomfortable with an adult dancing with a child. Thatâ€™s really important to me. And I advise against over-makeup. We used to have a program in England called Minipops and they used to dress up like Madonna with big red lips and it just felt really uncomfortable. That will not happen on this program. Itâ€™ll be based purely on dance talent and personality.”
TV GOODNESS: Iâ€™m a big Maddie Ziegler fan, so Iâ€™m excited sheâ€™ll be a judge. What do you think sheâ€™ll bring to the show?
Nigel: “Well, sheâ€™s probably the best child dancer around with experience. I think other kids have beaten her in competitions, Iâ€™m not talking about technique or anything else. But the experience that sheâ€™s had with Sia and being Siaâ€™s muse and Sia using her to verbalize, if you will, what Sia wants with Maddieâ€™s body and technique.
So, sheâ€™s had incredible experiences that I donâ€™t believe any other kid has had. So sheâ€™s gonna help with that, I think, and sheâ€™ll help us in telling these kids exactly how they need to work for the television audience and how they need to perform. Itâ€™s not just about technique. Also, I feel like it adds that extra layer, like an onion, of judging.
So Maddie is gonna be like their little kid sister, Jason [Derulo]â€™s gonna be like their older brother, Paula [Abdul]â€™s gonna be like their Auntie and I guess Iâ€™m gonna be like their Granddad.” [Laughs.]
TV GOODNESS: No. Youâ€™re just experienced, Nigel. Come on now.
Nigel: “Thank you very much. Thatâ€™s the word I was searching for.” [Laughs.]
TV GOODNESS: Do you have any favorites?
Nigel: “I would never talk about my favorites. I think itâ€™s unfair because you grow on this program. A couple of years ago we wouldâ€™ve sworn Jaja was going to win and then all of a sudden along came another dancer who just grew week on week on week and actually stole the show at the end of the day, as we know.
So itâ€™s difficult to say anything. And also, theyâ€™ve got a partner this year, so it depends on how they interact with their all-star as well. America votes, so I will just try and judge each performance as it goes along and I usually end up opening my mouth and saying, â€˜Iâ€™ve gotta say youâ€™re my favorite.â€™ And they go â€˜Shut up, Nigel.â€™
But Iâ€™ll be honest with you and say â€“ and I wasnâ€™t really gonna name names â€“ but Iâ€™ve already said to somebody the name, so Iâ€™d better tell you too. One of the kids Iâ€™m sorry weâ€™ve lost, because obviously the judges had nothing to do with the 10 theyâ€™ve chosen, was a young man called Sage [Rosen]. I thought he was a brilliant dancer and Iâ€™m sorry to have lost him.”
TV GOODNESS: Yeah. I have to say watching the Academy episodes, some of those moments were so tough because you could tell that the kids were so talented and that the all-stars were having such a hard time letting them go. I like that you guys showed us that.
Nigel: “I was really upset, to be honest. â€˜No, no. Donâ€™t let him go!â€™ I wish weâ€™d have almost done 2 partners for the all-star and then have America make that decision. And I know, I absolutely know that the all-stars wish weâ€™d done that as well because they did not want to send that last person home.”
TV GOODNESS: And, finally, what are you hoping that people who watch the show are getting out of it?
Nigel: “The security in the knowledge that dance is safe in America. That it is gonna be going on a lot longer than the television programs that brought them dance. And I think thatâ€™s really important. Dance is for everyone. I think it creates a great self-awareness, a self-belief. It allows people to express their emotions that canâ€™t always do it verbally.
In a country where the arts have been placed on the bottom of the ladder, itâ€™s something that we really need to encourage both in young men and young ladies. I think this program is showing benefits to kids who are really so articulate as well as being good dancers.
Maybe itâ€™s because they donâ€™t have a filter yet and they just say great things, but they really can express themselves so well. And I believe that is down to the social interaction that theyâ€™ve got from dance and the world, if you will, of dance that is no gang-related or anything else.
You really do have to focus and commit yourselves and if you can do that, you donâ€™t have to become a professional dancer. You can be anything that your talents lead you towards in any walk of life because youâ€™ve proven that you can commit yourself. Thatâ€™s why they take examinations, is that you can show people youâ€™ve committed to this examination. Well, there isnâ€™t anything stronger to commit to than dance knowing how hard you have to work every single day.”
Edited for space and content.
The live shows for SYTYCD: The Next Generation begin Monday, July 11th at 8/7c on FOX.
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