Never let it be said that Nigel Lythgoe is lazy. The coproducer of American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance has a new series premiering on E! this month, and once again, it gives unknowns a shot at the big time. Only this time, there are no auditions, and there’s no competition. Opening Act — premiering on E! Monday, July 9 at 10pm ET/PT — has the Internet as its starting point. Trolling for the best talent they can find, Lythgoe and his team track down the lucky, unknowing hopefuls and ambush them with the opportunity of a lifetime — the chance to open for an established international act. There’s just one hitch: They have only five days to prepare.
As much as he might like to, Lythgoe can’t claim 100 percent credit on the idea. “The idea originally came from Steve Schnurr,” he says. “He came to my office with this idea of finding opening acts for stars. So we kicked it around for a while, didn’t think much more about it for a few months, and I think I was right in the middle of finishing Idol last year, and starting Dance. And it just developed. … I spoke to a couple of friends, and they said, ‘We’ll put them on tour — we’d consider doing that.’ And so we followed it up. We looked at who was touring. We spoke to AEG. We spoke to Live Nation. And everyone seemed to be behind it.”
One of the distinctions between this and other performance-based shows in which Lythgoe is involved is the absence of a competitive element — something that was decided upon from the very beginning of discussions for Opening Act. “I think there are enough competitive shows out there. I’m certainly aware that there are — I do the best one,” he laughs. “It was really to see the pressures that go on. They get millions of hits on the Internet by putting themselves out there. [Opening Act] is a little way of just keeping our foot in the door, too, and saying ‘No, you do need television producers. We can help.’”
It’s also an opportunity for the headlining talent to give back, Lythgoe suggests. So far, the diverse lineup onboard for hosting Opening Act talent includes Nicki Minaj, Rod Stewart, Jason Aldean, LMFAO and many others. In addition to the chance to perform for a massive live and television audience, Opening Act puts the newbies through a sort of “boot camp” to prepare their image and presentation, meeting with everyone from voice coaches to stylists. It’s a boost, Lythgoe suggest, not a crutch — it’s not a reinvention of any kind. “What it is, more, it’s there to give them confidence,” he says. “It’s there to help them choose the right song. Do they choose a song that they’ve written? Do they choose a song that’s been out there? Is it just a cover version, or is it a song that Rock Mafia — who are part of this — can write for them? That’s their choice, really.”
And it’s a crucial one — maybe the most crucial choice of any they’ll make in their run-up to the big event. “They’ve got to make a lasting impression very quickly,” Lythgoe explains. “They’re going to get one or two numbers. We’ve been very lucky — one of the big surprises was the number of artists that said, ‘I really like this person — I’d like to do a duet with them,’ which has happened on a couple of occasions, now. And we’re thrilled with that, you know? But once they go out there, it’s really that help of ‘What do you want to sing? Can we assist you? How can we give you confidence?’ Yeah, we’ll cut your hair. So what? That doesn’t mean to say your talent’s going to be any better. Yeah, we can make you look a little better, but in five days, we’re not going to be able to do too much.
“Hopefully we’re choosing them wisely,” he says. “We don’t want failures, here.”