Returning 'American Idol' Finale Producer Nigel Lythgoe Talks Season 1 Hairstyles and Season 15 Plans

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(photo: Deadline)

It has just been announced that Nigel Lythgoe, who co-produced American Idol during its glory years (Seasons 1-7), returned in Season 10, and was fired after the disastrous Season 12, will return for one last triumphant Idol go-‘round next year, when he produces the grand finale for the show’s 15th and final season. Speaking to Yahoo Music’s Reality Rocks about Idol’s first finale, between Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini way back in 2002, Lythgoe recalls with a chuckle the chaos of the scene.

Related: Nigel Lythgoe on His Disco Cult Movie, 'The Apple’: 'The Best Part of Making It Was Finishing It’

“I remember that the big thing that was going on was [then-Fox TV chairman] Sandy Grushow absolutely hated Kelly Clarkson’s hair,” he says incredulously. “Kelly had sort of corkscrewed her hair, and it was all curly, and the only thing he was going on about was her hair. I thought, 'We got an entire f—ing production going on here, two hours thrown together in three days… and he’s worried about her f—ing hair?’ Seriously, this is what American executives are all about!”

Still, Lythgoe says Clarkson’s performance of her coronation song “A Moment Like This” stands as one of his all-time favorite Idol memories. “Just that feeling when Kelly hit the top notes, you know?” he muses. “It was always a difficult song for Justin; it was the wrong key for him. Everything was in Kelly’s favor. It was her song, you know? And when she did it – wow.”

Over the years, Lythgoe helmed some major Idol productions that he remembers fondly. “Oh, there were so many. I mean, from my own personal point of view, putting Elvis Presley on the Idol stage – I directed that, it’s my baby, and it’s something I’m very, very proud of. And during [the charity specials] Idol Gives Back, that gave me a great feeling of pleasure. Working with great stars for a good cause is always very pleasing. Idol Gives Back, seeing the success of it naturally, was unbelievable, and it brought me so many rewards a personal level, too.”

But Lythgoe insists that he doesn’t want the Season 15 finale to be a purely nostalgic romp. “I wouldn’t really want to just be looking back. I think that’s up to other people. That was my past, and there are other people who can look at that stuff and put it all together,” he says. “I’d like to be involved in saying, 'This is how good the show is, and what a shame to lose it now.’”

Lythgoe says the balance next season will be celebrating Idol’s rich history while still focusing properly on the competition between the current contestants. “I think that’s a tough one,” he admits. “The finale has the possibility to pull between two angles, which is crowning the winner and giving enough credibility to this television program that made such an impact on America. I find it rather sad that [both angles are] hooked together. It would be nice to have a [separate] 'Farewell American Idol’ show, where all of the stars who have been on in the past have a moment to say what was good about it.”

Lythgoe admits that he has mixed feelings about Fox’s decision to finally pull the plug on Idol. “I’m 50/50 now. I was happy when I first heard [that Idol was going off the air]. I thought, you know, it needs resting. And it’s far better to let it rest than ruin a legacy of probably the greatest entertainment show in the history of American television. It really was, for a number of years, the ratings 'death star.’ Ridiculous figures, really. You can’t understate the impact it had on life in America, and on so many areas of music. The impact and the footprint that American Idol had, I think it was the best entertainment show ever – though I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with that.

"But losing that legacy and watching it sort of depleting in value, I’m happy that they’re resting it. At the same time, I look at it and think, nowadays, in comparisons to what else is on the box, the figures still stand up pretty damn well.”

Lythgoe wonders aloud if Idol could have been saved. “Maybe it could’ve been cut down in hours; maybe it could’ve been shortened,” he suggests. “I’ve always thought that two hours was a long time to donate to a television program. Could it have been restructured? Maybe. But the essence of it – going out to find talent, and the talent being our focus – that got lost a few years ago. And I think that’s what needs to be regained.”

American Idol returns to Fox on Jan. 6. In the meantime, regarding Lythgoe’s in-limbo, on-the-bubble Fox competition So You Think You Can Dance, he says cryptically but hopefully: “I know you’re a fan of the show, and I think you and I might be talking again in the future about what Fox wants to do with it next year. We’re in heavy, heavy discussions about it right now.”

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