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Lythgoe returns to ‘American Idol’

He'll take up exec producer reins

Two years after he ankled “American Idol,” Nigel Lythgoe — who helped bring the reality sensation to U.S. shores — is back as an exec producer.

Lythgoe is in a sense filling his own old role on the show, as he was never replaced following his departure after the 2008 season. That means he’ll once again work alongside “Idol” creator Simon Fuller, as well as FremantleMedia North America’s Cecile Frot-Coutaz and Ken Warwick, all of whom continue as exec producers on “Idol.”

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 Fuller’s day-to-day eyes and ears on the show. 19 was said to be concerned that it didn’t have a dedicated exec producer on the ground — hence the return of Lythgoe.

The Lythgoe homecoming comes as Fox, 19 and FremantleMedia North America continue to look at ways to reboot “Idol,” which is coming off a lackluster season. Lythgoe has been critical in regards to some of the show’s decisions in the two years since his departure.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 and that no final list has been drawn up as of yet.

Following his “Idol” exit, 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 has 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.

But sources inside Fox said the new deal is only exec producer-related, and does not come with any on-camera provisions.

Lythgoe’s return to “Idol” also marks the return of his partnership with longtime acquaintance Warwick. The two have known each other since their childhood in Liverpool and even co-starred in the Fox Reality show series “Corkscrewed: The Wrath of Grapes” (which followed the duo as they attempted to open a winery).

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. Upcoming auditions include East Rutherford, N.J. (Aug. 3); Austin (Aug. 11) and San Francisco (Aug. 19).

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