Lythgoe
Lythgoe with original "Idol" judges Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell.

Insiders confirm reports that Nigel Lythgoe, who ankled his "American Idol" executive producer post two years ago, is expected to head back to the show.

According to one source familiar with the inner workings of the show, Lythgoe's hire was made by 19 Ent. owner CKX to serve as 19's and exec producer Simon Fuller's day-to-day eyes and ears on the show. 19 was said to be concerned that it didn't have a dedicated EP on the show — hence the return of longtime Fuller collaborator Lythgoe.

The Lythgoe return comes as Fox, 19 and FremantleMedia North America continue to look at ways to reboot "Idol," which is coming off a lackluster season.

Job one, of course, continues to be the search for Simon Cowell's replacement as "Idol" judge. Fox said a replacement isn't likely to be announced in time for the TV Critics Assn. press tour; the network meets with reporters on Aug. 2. Several celeb and industry names continue to be bandied about for the job, but as for now, the network will only confirm that it's talking to several candidates.

Lythgoe has continued to have a presence at Fox, where he's both a judge and an exec producer on "So You Think You Can Dance." That's led some to wonder whether Lythgoe ought to actually serve as Cowell's replacement — after all, Lythgoe has plenty of on-air experience beyond his producing chops. As a judge on the U.K. talent competish "Popstars," Lythgoe even earned the nickname "Nasty Nigel" in the British press.

FremantleMedia North America's Cecile Frot-Coutaz and Ken Warwick also continue as exec producers on "Idol."

As part of next year's changes on "Idol," the show's producers have dropped the contestant eligibility age down to 15. Auditions have already begun for next season, with stops already in Nashville, Milwaukee and New Orleans (today). Upcoming auditions include East Rutherford, N.J. (Aug. 3); Austin (Aug. 11) and San Francisco (Aug. 19).

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