Nigel Lythgoe returning to American Idol production role

A familiar face is coming back to American Idol, and it’s not Paula Abdul or Simon Cowell.

LOS ANGELES — A familiar face is coming back to American Idol, and it’s not Paula Abdul or Simon Cowell.

Fox announced Thursday that British TV personality Nigel Lythgoe is returning to the singing competition in the producing role he left two years ago.

Lythgoe originally served as “Idol” producer when it debuted in 2002. He left to focus on So You Think You Can Dance, the Fox dancing contest he executive produces and judges. Fox said Thursday that Lythgoe will continue on that show.

Lythgoe will rejoin Idol executive producers Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Ken Warwick and creator Simon Fuller on behalf of CKx Inc., which shares rights to the show with FremantleMedia North America. His return had been widely rumoured the past week.

“Since we launched the original ’Pop Idol’ in England, I’ve remained close with Simon Fuller,” Lythgoe said. American Idol became a juggernaut of epic proportions, but to me it was always like home. I am elated and honoured to be rejoining childhood friend and fellow executive producer Ken Warwick, and look forward to creating more magic.”

The reunion comes amid sweeping changes for the show’s judging panel. Cowell left at the end of last season, and Ellen DeGeneres announced last week she would not return.

Peter Rice, entertainment chairman for Fox Networks Group, declined to say Monday at a Television Critics Association meeting whether Randy Jackson or Kara DioGuardi would be back for season 10, which begins airing next January. Other changes in store for the upcoming season include lowering the audition age eligibility from 16 to 15 years old, and Universal Music Group replacing Sony Music Entertainment as the label that develops, distributes and markets Idol finalists. The changes come after an edition which ratings dipped but not enough to knock Idol from the No. 1 spot.

Thursday’s announcement did not specify if Lythgoe would possibly serve as a new Idol judge.

So You Think You Can Dance usually airs in the summer.

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