It was a short-lived return to So You Think You Can Dance for Nigel Lythgoe, who is stepping down from the Fox competition series amid multiple sexual assault lawsuits against him.
“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 our sister site 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 was slated to return as a SYTYCD judge for Season 18, after allegedly not being asked to fill that role for the show’s 17th season in 2022. (Prior to that, Lythgoe had judged every season of the series, in addition to co-creating and exec-producing it.)
On Dec. 29, Paula Abdul sued Lythgoe — along with American Idol‘s and So You Think You Can Dance‘s production companies — alleging that Lythgoe sexually assaulted her during her tenure judging both shows. In the suit, Abdul details a pattern of toxic behavior, alleging that Lythgoe “verbally insulted and belittled” her as early as 2001. Upon joining Idol as a judge in 2002, she claims she was bullied by Lythgoe and was paid less than her male counterparts. Then, during one of the show’s “initial seasons,” Lythgoe allegedly sexually assaulted her in a hotel elevator while traveling for contestant auditions.
Years later in 2014, Lythgoe allegedly sexually assaulted Abdul again after inviting her to his home for dinner, which Abdul thought to be a “professional invitation,” according to the suit.
“I learned of these claims in the press and I want to be clear: Not only are they false, they are deeply offensive to me and to everything I stand for,” Lythgoe told TMZ one day after Abdul’s lawsuit was filed. “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. But I can promise that I will fight this appalling smear with everything I have.”
A second sexual assault lawsuit was filed against Lythgoe on Jan. 2, this time by two contestants on the 2003 competition series All American Girl. The women, identified as Jane Doe K.G. and Jane Doe K.L, alleged that Lythgoe made sexual advances on them at a house after the show’s wrap party, and that during taping of All American Girl, Lythgoe groped contestants’ buttocks.