So You Think You Can Dance's resilient Musa Cooper.
What makes So You Think You Can Dance's Nigel Lythgoe so mean? Why can't a break-dancer catch a break? TV Guide presents a step-by-step guide to American Idol's sister show.

Fox's So You Think You Can Dance (Wednesdays at 8 pm/ET and Thursdays at 9 pm/ET) started the day after American Idol ended. Why the rush?
Producers wanted to capitalize on Idol's tidal wave of momentum to launch Dance's second season. A solid performer in Season 1, Dance's summer audience — eight million last season, 10 million now — still doesn't compare with the 30-plus million who regularly watched Idol.

Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer of both Idol and Dance, puts on the judge's hat for Dance. What qualifies him?
Lythgoe, 56, describes his childhood in Liverpool as a Billy Elliot kind of story. He started tap dancing at 11, even though his father, a crane operator, wanted him to take boxing lessons. But once he began winning local competitions, his family came around. At 21, Lythgoe became a BBC choreographer. He created dances for more than 500 TV shows in the U.K. and Europe, including The Muppets.

Nigel seems at least as mean — if not meaner — than Simon Cowell. Is that his goal?
Actually, Lythgoe brought his angry act to British TV years before Simon. He was nicknamed "Nasty Nigel" by the press for his comments on Popstars, a precursor to Idol. Lythgoe, like Cowell, has no compunction about being rough on contestants: "If you came to me in a professional audition, I'd be tough. I was a lot tougher as a choreographer than I am as a judge on this show."

Where is Season 1 host Lauren Sanchez? Who is Cat Deeley?
Sanchez, says Lythgoe, is "extremely pregnant" and couldn't do the show. Deeley is considered one of the top TV hosts in the U.K. "She's one of the best I've ever worked with, along with Ryan Seacrest," Lythgoe says. "She will literally get down on the pavement [where some wannabes slept while waiting to audition] to feel what it's like." But don't expect Deeley to cut a rug, the way Sanchez did at the end of last season. "The only time I dance," she says, "is in a very dark nightclub, possibly after a couple of beers." [For more on Deeley, check out TVGuide.com's Insider Q&A with the bubbly Brit.]

Why didn't more of the auditions' amazing break-dancers get a ticket to L.A.?
"You have to have 'dancer's eyes,'" Lythgoe says. "When you're in front of your choreographer, you need to be able to copy everything he or she is doing." (Musa Cooper was the exception. When he was cut last season, the judges told him to get classical dance training, and he heeded their advice. It paid off: He advanced to the top 20 this year.)

Wasn't it politically incorrect to dismiss little person Jason Perez based on size?
"I let him audition," Lythgoe says testily. "My point was that he would look stupid and people would be laughing. You tell me: Don't you think his head would be in a very strange place if he were dancing with a very tall girl? It's OK to be PC, but the fact is, he's tiny. Not a 'small person.' Put him next to any girl and he would ruin her chances."

Why the change this season, with dancers competing as couples?
"It's hard to look at 20 people to see who you like," Lythgoe says. "It's far easier to give out 10 phone numbers and let people say, 'OK, we like this or that couple.'"

But doesn't that give the couples with the most chemistry the advantage?
"Yes," he says, "but we paired them up with the idea that we are taking a really good ballroom person and a really good street dancer, for example, and hoping they will help each other." Now the results shows are revealing the bottom three couples. Those six dance solo, and the judges decide which boy and which girl go home. As a result, some of the dancers may be finding themselves with new partners.

Is there a stylist, à la Idol?
Yes, but the judges/choreographers put in their two cents. "Last season, Mia Michaels had them dancing around in sackcloth and ashes," Lythgoe jests, "which I thought was absolutely horrible. But Mia loved it."

Why didn't last year's winner, Nick Lazzarini, take the New York City apartment-for-a-year prize?
He wanted to stay in L.A., Lythgoe says, "because he felt that's where the work was." So Lazzarini pocketed the $100,000 prize plus the $65,000 rental fee from the NYC apartment. The 21-year-old has since performed with Evolution, a contemporary dance company in Orange County, California.

How happy is Nigel that these people aren't singing?
"Very happy, I must say," Lythgoe says. "I need to rest my ears."

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