Nigel Lythgoe: Nicki Minaj is one of the best judges I’ve worked with

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(CNN) — Fans should prepare for some changes when “American Idol” returns to Fox on Wednesday and Thursday this week, but one change they won’t be seeing is a larger emphasis on hip-hop.

With Nicki Minaj joining the judges’ panel last year, it was questioned if “Idol” would see an uptick in artists closer to Minaj’s profile: rap artists who can also sing.

But, “Idol” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe told CNN during a press call last week, he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.

“I don’t believe so. I don’t think rap really fits in to ‘American Idol’ in the sense that I believe rap is an art form in itself more akin to poetry, more akin to drama, if you will,” he said during a press call. “I think rap in the street when they have rap competitions is thrilling because these kids are making it up and having a go at each other. They’ve got something to say. This is about getting their frustrations out. Hip-hop is a way of life. It isn’t a genre in truth in ‘American Idol.'”

(If that disheartens you as an aspiring artist, keep in mind that Minaj herself has urged developing rappers to steer clear of “Idol,” telling press last month that she “definitely [doesn’t] think a rapper should be in this competition. … The hip-hop community wants you to be credible. … I would never go on a show like this as a rapper. I wouldn’t encourage anyone else as a rapper to come on. I don’t think it’s authentic.”)

With that squared away, Lythgoe went on to mention the changes that are going to take place: the show made an effort to head out into smaller towns to find potential contestants who may not have been able to make it to auditions held in a larger neighboring city, which widened the talent pool; they also used “I Nominate,” which let friends and family nominate a strong vocalist who was too nervous or shy to head out for the audition; and they’ve switched Hollywood Week up a bit.

“First time ever in Hollywood Week, we split the weeks up and gave a week to the boys and then a week to the girls, which really gave us an awful lot more focus on our talent this year that allowed us to see the woods through the trees, if you will,” Lythgoe told press. “We’re going to continue to do that during the Vegas rounds as well up until the point we get to our top ten.”

As for his oft-bickering new judges, the EP admitted that he wasn’t thrilled with the behavior displayed thus far, or the resulting reports.

“I don’t think that’s been a bonus in any way, shape or form, to be frank. It’s not publicity that I welcomed,” he said. “I really do – and I’ve said all the way since we began this show – it’s about the contestants. The judges are always going to be interesting because they are who they are, but the show is about the contestants. I don’t really want to know that there’s been a huge blow-up between them or anything like that and have it all taken out of proportion … I’m not into that sort of publicity.”

And yet, there’s no denying that some viewers will be watching specifically for the catfights. “Everybody tells me I should be grateful for that,” Lythgoe went on. “I would much prefer that they watch because these judges are excellent. Nicki Minaj I think is one of the best judges I’ve ever worked with.”

His hope is that the focus will stay on the talent at hand – although he emphasizes that “Idol” isn’t just looking for a great set of pipes, like another show we could name.

“It isn’t always about the voice; it is about charisma, it is about personality, it is about attracting an audience and doing that week on week,” Lythgoe said, noting that the girls are a talented bunch this season.

“That is not to say that one of the boys will not sneak in because there are, I would say just off the top of my head, five or six really good guys and only five of them are going to make the top 10. At the end of the day when you’ve got five guys and five girls, the strength of talent, the depth of talent, doesn’t matter. You’re still only dealing with five males and five females. It’s anybody’s game at that stage.”

By Breeanna Hare


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