NEW YORK — "American Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe says don't expect any major changes when the hit Fox TV show returns in January after undergoing an extensive makeover last season.
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Lythgoe, who helped transform Britain's "Pop Idol" into the American TV juggernaut in 2002, returned as executive producer last season to usher in the post-Simon Cowell era. That ended a two-year hiatus that allowed him to focus on "So You Think You Can Dance," which he produces and helps judge.
For the 10th "American Idol" season, Lythgoe introduced new judges, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, to join holdover Randy Jackson. Veteran music producer Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope-Geffen-A&M, was brought in as an in-house mentor for the contestants. All of them are back for Season 11, Lythgoe said.
"I think we made a lot of tweaks last year," Lythgoe said. "I'm not sure that we want to make too many more tweaks this year."
Lythgoe said the most significant change introduced last year had nothing to do with the judges: It was a decision to avoid those fish-out-of-water moments that forced very talented singers to sing in styles that didn't suit them.
"The biggest change we made last year was to say, 'OK, if you're a country singer you can sing any of these genres in your country style,'" Lythgoe said. "'We're not going to force you to do rock or anything you can't do. You can take a Michael Jackson song and turn it country.'"
That resulted in singers such as Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart advancing much deeper into the competition than they might have in previous years. The two teenage finalists, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, were country singers.
McCreery, the first pure country "Idol" winner since Carrie Underwood in 2005, saw his October release, "Clear As Day," make him the first country act to debut at No. 1 with its first studio album on the Billboard 200 chart. And at 18, he became the youngest man to open at the top of the chart with his debut release. He also was the first "Idol" winner to start his post-"Idol" career with a No. 1 album since Ruben Studdard in 2003.
Lythgoe said last year the show found "some incredible talent, and it was so diverse."
"We got this great jazz singer in Casey, we got a soft jazz singer in Haley, and the two country kids (in the finals) probably in previous years wouldn't have been as successful because they would have been asked to sing in the different styles that we used to do then," he said last week.
Lythgoe expects similar results in Season 11.
"The kids that have auditioned this year that we're going to be taking to Hollywood in December are again really talented and really diverse," he said. "Hopefully they'll get through one of the toughest auditions, which is the Hollywood week, and get themselves into the top 20."
Lythgoe said he believes "Idol" should be "totally about the talent" and the recent changes foster that.
"For me," he said, "it's really showing the talent that is here and not trying to take somebody who's talented, beat them around the bucket and turn them out."
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