Nigel Lythgoe (right) is good natured and friendly, but he can also crush a dancer's dream in no time flat! As executive producer and judge on So You Think You Can Dance, he demands the absolute best from every person who hits his stage – which is why we love him.
Stephanie Snipes: The audition process seemed more painful this season than last. Did it feel that way to you?
Nigel sits down with Oprah.com's Screening Room to discuss the new season.
Nigel Lythgoe: No, I don’t think so. Each season that bar gets raised, and last season it got raised a long way because [Joshua and Twitch] had no formal training and they came in first and second, and that whole group raised itself ... and really trained hard. [They] really became very adept at anything that was thrown at them, and we want to kind of keep that high standard. ... People see that there’s dancers that haven’t had the formal training, and everyone thinks, "Oh, I can do that if they do it." ... They can’t. They need a little more than just a passion to do it; they’ve got to have something called talent! We’re not one of these silly little reality shows that just make people’s dreams come true, you know. Somebody said to me the other day, "Everybody wants to be Susan Boyle" ... I thought it’s a great line, they do, they just think we’ve come along, stick a pair of tap shoes on and hop around the stage. Doesn’t work like that.
SS: It seems some of the choreographers can be pretty cruel.
NL: You have to be really good, really talented, and we take it from a very professional audition attitude, so when ... Mia Michaels lays into somebody, she is not doing it for her own benefit, even if it appears that way. She is doing it to let the dancer know they are on record; they’re on call here to improve in her eyes. And I love that—I love that we’ve all got different opinions. You’re going to get tough choreographers. I mean so many people say, "She is so mean, she is so cruel, so was so this, she was so that." She just demands from everybody else what she demands from herself. And if that standard is too high for people, then it’s too high. I am certainly not going to lower Mia’s standard to suit a television program. The television program has got to come up to Mia’s standard as far as I’m concerned.
SS: Is there a particular type of dancer that picks up choreography more easily?
NL: This is a tough question. I’ll tell you why this is a tough question. So many people report to be contemporary dancers, and they’re not. They are sort of jazz dancers that feel like they’re throwing a bit of classical in there. I mean, a true contemporary dancer has got ballet as their base and classical ballet, and that is their base. And then they choose to extemporize on that and go into a contemporary world. However, when people walk in here and say they are contemporary, a lot of them just go running around the stage like Isadora Duncan, and half of them deserve to be strangled by their scarf. We put too much on contemporary dancers. A lot of them cannot change styles; a lot of them can’t do anything else other than run around the stage reaching and stretching in anguish to somebody off camera that I never understand who it is. But it’s the teenage angst they have to live with.
SS: You've had a lot of tap dancers come through the audition process. Think we'll ever see one go all the way?
NL: Tap dancers find it very difficult to do anything other than tap if that is all they have been trained in because, again, it’s a whole different ballgame that you’re constantly working on—bent legs, loose ankles—which you cannot afford to do when you’re doing jumps or anything else. Really, an across-the-board style of all the sort of major dances is the easiest one. You know a sort of "jack of many trades, master of none" is easy to pick up all the different styles we throw at them. The street kids are always going to find it difficult to do anything technically, but what is happening and what has happened over the past five years is so many have begun classes, so many of them have started ballroom and learning to dance with a partner because they know just working with somebody else is really very difficult.
SS: It was impressive that hip-hoppers Joshua and Twitch made it to the end last season.
NL: It was, and I think that is the whole basis of the show. It is far more the kids. For some reason, Simon Cowell always denies this is a journey. It is so much of a journey from when they first walk in the audition room to where they finish up. And, if it wasn’t a journey, you would have 19 losers—because there is only ever one winner—and I do not believe that. I think every day they are in the competition they’re a winner because they are getting to work with such incredible people. This whole process of winning and losing needs to be gauged on much they leave with.
SS: We loved seeing Bollywood choreography last season. Anything fun coming up this time around?
NL: We're certainly going to do more Bollywood. I would like to do something called Pantsula, which is a sort of South African township street dance, which is quite fun. I don't know if you saw Superstars of Dance, but I used a choreographer on that with the Australian National Dance Company. It was just exciting for me. They just sort of flew through the air and they all rolled and jumped-just a bit like Kobe Bryant. When they are in the top of their jump, they somehow still manage to leap off the air and go a bit higher. ... It's ridiculous how they sort of defy gravity. I am going to bring that young man in, and hopefully he is going to choreograph for us. It's so good opening up to the world because you get to use other people who will hopefully inspire everybody.
SS: How about on the judging panel? Will we see more of Debbie Allen and Adam Shankman?
NL: Absolutely. Adam Shankman has got such love and passion for dance. You couldn't not use him...just the very fact that he had the guts to get up there and audition. At the same time, as to having that fun, like the rest of us, he is very serious when it comes down to it. I mean, I couldn't show half of his shots [during Vegas week] because he was just red-eyed. [Ballet dancer] Alex broke him up, broke us all up, but hopefully he'll come back one day. There is no question he will certainly get through.
SS: Throughout Vegas week and going into the season, the atmosphere between the dancers seems to be one of support and camaraderie. Does that surprise you?
NL: I am always shocked at that. That was starting to happen on Idol too, as much as Simon Cowell loves to put the dagger in and say, 'Look, get rid of this person, he can get rid of your competition.' There isn't that there. I mean you saw it between Adam [Lambert] and Kris [Allen]-there is a huge camaraderie that they're going on the same journey and they are all experiencing the same thing. I am sure that deep down, they want to win it, but not at the expense of everyone else.
SS: So, now you guys are coming back for another season in the fall!
NL: It feels very strange going around auditioning Season 6 when we haven't started Season 5. But at the same time, we've just come back from Boston and Atlanta, and I was really delighted at Boston.
We had a 6'8'' tap dancer, a great character dancer, some fantastic athletic contemporary boys...so I am really looking forward to Season 6 already.
Follow Nigel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dizzyfeet
Why the Oprah.com can't get enough of So You Think You Can Dance
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, March 7, 2014
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