Nigel Lythgoe is stepping down as a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance,” after two lawsuits accused him of sexual assault.
Lythgoe, an executive producer of the show, is accused of groping and forcibly kissing Paula Abdul in an elevator about 20 years ago. In a second lawsuit, two contestants on “All American Girl” also accused him of forcibly trying to kiss them after a wrap party in 2003.
“I have informed the producers of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ of my decision to step back from participating in this year’s series,” Lythgoe said in a statement to Variety. “I did so with a heavy heart but entirely voluntarily because this great program has always been about dance and dancers, and that’s where its focus needs to remain. In the meantime, I am dedicating myself to clearing my name and restoring my reputation.”
Lythgoe, 74, has been a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” since it began in 2005. The 18th season is due to premiere on Fox on March 4. Allison Holker and Maksim Chmerkovskiy have also been announced as judges on the upcoming season.
Sony Pictures Television’s 19 Entertainment, which co-produces “So You Think You Can Dance,” has opened an investigation of Lythgoe, a source told Variety on Wednesday.
Abdul was a judge on both “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol,” which Lythgoe also produced. She sued Lythgoe on Dec. 29 under California’s Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act, which revived certain lawsuits that otherwise would have been barred by the statute of limitations.
Abdul alleges that during one of the early seasons of “American Idol,” she and Lythgoe were traveling for the show’s regional auditions and stayed at the same hotel. She alleges that in the elevator, Lythgoe groped her breasts and genitals and forcibly kissed her.
About a decade later, she alleges that Lythgoe invited her to his home for dinner and forced himself on top of her while she was sitting on his couch. In both instances, she resisted and fled, according to her lawsuit.
She also alleged that Lythgoe engaged in verbal harassment and bullying, and that she was paid less than the male judges on “American Idol.”
Lythgoe has adamantly denied Abdul’s allegations, saying in a statement on Saturday that they are “false” and “deeply offensive.”
“While Paula’s history of erratic behavior is well known, I can’t pretend to understand exactly why she would file a lawsuit that she must know is untrue,” he said in the statement on Saturday. “But I can promise that I will fight this appalling smear with everything I have.”
In the second lawsuit, two contestants alleged that Lythgoe once walked on the set of “All American Girl” and swatted and groped the dancers’ buttocks. That suit did not identify Lythgoe, the plaintiffs, or the show by name, using only initials instead.
Abdul, who has built a second career as a reality show judge, said she did not speak out sooner because she feared being blackballed by one of the most powerful men in the industry. Her suit named 19 Entertainment and several other companies as defendants, alleging that they protected Lythgoe and acted to cover up the abuse.
In his statement, Lythgoe said that he first learned of Abdul’s allegations by reading about them in the press.