As a former dancer and dance teacher, my favorite show on television is “So You Think You Can Dance.” So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to participate in a press conference call with Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer and head judge on the show.
On Tuesday, July 21, 2015, this program, which showcases the best of the best young dancers and choreographers in the country, celebrated its ten-year anniversary with an hour-long special. Editing ten years into an hour was no mean feat. The show incorporated performances of some of the favorite routines over the years, as well as edited compilations of musical guests, celebrity guest judges, and some of the … ahem … most unusual auditionees.
This summer’s regular shows air on Monday nights on FOX at 8/7c.
Nigel has received a number of accolades in recent years. He is now an Officer of the British Empire or OBE, an honor bestowed by Queen Elizabeth, and he was given an International Medal of Honor at Ellis Island in New York. About these honors, he said, “God, I wish my parents were alive.”
Below are some of the highlights of our conference call:
Nigel on the real purpose of “So You Think You Can Dance”:
The whole reason for “So You Think You Can Dance” was to break down barriers and elitism in dance. We’ve got a society where a lot of kids could not afford to go to dance lessons and, for the love of dance, have worked at it and created styles for themselves. I find the street kids very, very creative….
“So You Think You Can Dance” has always been about pushing people beyond the limit that they want to be pushed. Whether they achieve 100% just by going at 100%, they may achieve 95%, 96%, and that’s better than just staying at the 50% mark.
I think by bringing stage and street together we’re making dance exciting again, interesting, and hopefully getting the street kids technique and getting the stage kids creativity. That can only be good for dance.
On the addition of judges Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo:
I really feel as though Paula’s comfortable in this show. There’s no one making snide remarks at her. I’ll pick on her because I love picking on her. But she’s really comfortable in it. She’s in an area that she really knows what she’s talking about, and I think she’s probably America’s most decorated choreographer in the period that she was choreographing.
So, I’m always amazed when I read Twitter comments about “Why don’t you get judges that know what they’re talking about?” Maybe you haven’t heard of Paula Abdul before 2002 as a judge on “American Idol.”
And the same with Jason Derulo. A lot of people didn’t realize that Jason is a stage school kid. He trained in tap and jazz and ballet, and of course, he’s a good dancer in his own right. More importantly, he employs dancers for his act. He’s a good person to have up there as well.
On host Cat Deeley’s appeal on the show:
Charisma, obviously, one. Two, she’s passionate and she’s interested in the dancers, really interested in the dancers. Three, she will come in and argue with us judges when we’re choosing our top 20. “You have to put this person in. Do you know what they do? Do you know what they’ve done in the past?” We’re like, “Okay, Cat. We’ll think about it. Thank you, Cat.” She is passionate about it.
On dividing the dancers by stage or street categories rather than male and female:
We’re not worried about male or female. It purely and simply is one street, one stage. So at the end of the day, we will end up with two stage and two street going into the finale. It could be four girls. Certainly on the street side, I think the girls are fantastic this year.
On what the show has done for choreographers:
One aspect of the show that I wasn’t absolutely anticipating at all was the success of the choreographers, and how the choreographers were known by America after one season. The names Wade Robson, Mia Michaels, Tyce Diorio were being spoken about.
All of a sudden I realized, my goodness me, we’re actually showing behind the curtain of how these routines are created. America is loving the fact that they’re seeing such talented people create these routines and have these dancers that I think we all agree have raised the bar every single season.
On the musical acts that “So You Think You Can Dance” has launched during the past ten years:
We were the first television show for Lady Gaga. We introduced Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” Christina Perri was a waitress before [choreographer] Stacey Tookey found her music online, and she came and did “Jar of Hearts” for us and was signed up by the record companies at that point on, literally straight after the show. We broke One Republic’s first single “Apologize.”
Big New World, Christina Aguilera saw them singing on “So You Think You Can Dance” and called them up and asked if she could sing it with them, and obviously it became a huge hit, “Say Something.” It’s a sort of byproduct, if you like, of dance. We need music, and we’ve introduced some major musical acts to the country.
On how the show has made dance more respectable for boys and men:
Dads come up to me now and say, “My son wants to be a dancer. I’ve seen the show, and I respect him for that. I realize how athletic it is, and he’s going to have to work hard if he wants to be a professional dancer, but I’m fully supporting it.” … I think it’s wonderful that people now realize how tough it is to be a professional dancer.
On the show’s legacy:
Both “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance” are giving, if you like, the springboard to careers. No guarantee that you’re going to last. There’s no guarantee that you’re even going to be successful at the end of the program. But it is giving the exposure to wonderful talent that is coming out of this country….
I think just the very nature of seeing dance grow in stature across these ten years, and the fact that we’ve got a National Dance Day, and from my point of view, to see the Special Olympics, which as you know, are opening here next Saturday, to include dance for the first time in the world games. I’m absolutely thrilled. We’ve got 17 countries competing in the dance competition, which I’ve been honored to be asked to judge. So, there is a legacy there and it’s a legacy of revitalizing dance…. It’s thrilling.
On what “So You Think You Can Dance” has meant for him personally:
I’m being richly rewarded for things that I actually would do for free. I mean, the challenges and the experiences that I’m having with making programs like “Idol Gives Back” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” I would never have dreamt would affect my life and me as a person as much as they do. It’s absolutely wonderful to be a part of it is all I can say.