So You Think You Can Dance will grand jete into its 11th season on Wednesday (8/7c, Fox), and, as usual, executive producer and judge supreme Nigel Lythgoe is shaking things up. He tells TV Guide Magazine all about it.
TV Guide Magazine: Eleven seasons? Already? How can that be?
Lythgoe: Hasn't the time flown? I'm so glad you weren't there to see our original pilot for the series. [Laughs] It was just horrible! But we got our act together and it's been so gratifying to see the show evolve right along with the audience. Kids who were 7 when we hit the air now audition for us! It's horrific that they're stopping arts programs in the classroom these days but, sadly, it's good for us because these kids are finding an outlet in dance through watching our show. We now have so many street kids and urban kids getting involved in their communities by creating dance crews. Far better than drug crews, isn't it?
TV Guide Magazine: In 2012, you switched to two winners but now you're going back to just one. How come?
Lythgoe: The viewers wanted a male and a female winner because it was too difficult to choose and we went along with that but, frankly, it didn't work. Now we're back to a single winner. You've got to make up your mind! But there's a new way for fans to have their say. During each of the audition episodes, we'll introduce two dance crews and the viewers will tweet which one they'd like to see come to one of the live shows. It's going to be very fresh and exciting.
TV Guide Magazine: Who are the celebrity judges this season, and why do we need them? Many seem out of their element.
Lythgoe: We have a terrific lineup this year. Tara Lipinski, Jenna Dewan Tatum and Billy Porter are new to us. Christina Applegate, Jenna Elfman and Wayne Brady are returning. They're not dance experts but sometimes we need a different perspective. The celebrity judges know the art of performance and we need that balance. I don't care if they disagree with me. I'm not always right — just 99 percent of the time.
TV Guide Magazine: Why is the talent greater every season? Is there some sort of evolutionary phenomenon at work here?
Lythgoe: There is! When I was a kid, we used to rush to the TV to see the great Rudolf Nureyev dance on the variety shows and we'd applaud like mad fools because he did five or six pirouettes. "My God, look what he did!" The kids today can do 12 or 13 pirouettes. They're only slowed by gravity.
TV Guide Magazine: Has taking the top prize become less important?
Lythgoe: Yes, but I think that's true of many competition shows. Look at how many singers on American Idol have done well without making it to the finals. Jennifer Hudson came in sixth! She would never have been considered for Dream Girls and go on to win an Oscar if it hadn't been for Idol. On SYTYCD, Twitch came back four times before he got on the show. He didn't win but now he's one of this country's greatest commercial dancers. He is always working! Of course, our winners are grateful for the prize money but it's the platform, the showcase that is the most valuable.
TV Guide Magazine: When it comes to winning, isn't personality and heart just as crucial as technique?
Lythgoe: Even more so. One of last year's winners, Fik-Shun, was absolutely fabulous with his creativity and his smile but I don't think he properly pointed his toes even once! Emotion is a critical factor, too, because our choreographers explore such tough subjects — death, addiction, breast cancer, the plight of refugees. I've never seen so many people cry on a bloody television program in all my life! [Laughs] It's worse than a daytime soap.