Former American Idol judge Paula Abdul has filed a lawsuit accusing Nigel Lythgoe, the show’s former executive producer, of sexual assault and harassment.
Background on Paula Abdul and Nigel Lythgoe’s Professional Relationship
Paula Abdul and Nigel Lythgoe worked together for eight seasons on American Idol, with Lythgoe serving as executive producer and showrunner and Abdul as one of the show’s three judges.
Abdul was an original judge when American Idol premiered in 2002, along with Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. Her bubbly personality and choreography background made her a fan favorite.
Meanwhile, Lythgoe shaped much of the show’s format and persona during his tenure as executive producer from 2002–2008 and again from 2010–2013. He was known for his brash style and for sometimes sparring with Cowell on-air.
Allegations of Unwanted Touching and Sexualized Comments on American Idol Set
In a lawsuit filed December 30th, 2022 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Abdul alleges that Lythgoe sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions during their time working together on American Idol.
Specific accusations from the lawsuit include:
- Lythgoe walked into Abdul’s trailer and “ripped off her underwear” in 2005
- Lythgoe tackled Abdul in her dressing room in 2006, “pinned her down to the bed, and unzipped his pants”
- Lythgoe routinely made crude sexual remarks, including that sexual acts with Abdul were “on my bucket list”
Abdul Was Reluctant to Speak Up Due to Power Imbalance
In the lawsuit documents, Abdul states that she did not feel comfortable raising concerns about Lythgoe’s behavior earlier because he wielded immense power over her career. As the show’s executive producer, Lythgoe had substantial influence at the network and over Abdul’s ongoing role as a judge on American Idol.
Abdul also suggests in the lawsuit that network leadership may have been aware of Lythgoe’s pattern of sexual misconduct on set but turned a blind eye. Fox executives are not named as defendants.
Lythgoe Denies Allegations, His Attorney Calls Them “Fabrications”
Lythgoe has firmly denied Abdul’s accusations through statements from his attorney. He maintains his innocence and insists the alleged incidents outlined in the lawsuit never took place.
Lythgoe’s lawyer states that the lawsuit contains “false allegations” that “shock and sadden Mr. Lythgoe.” Defending his client, the attorney noted Lythgoe’s long career “creating opportunities for aspiring talent” and called Abdul’s claims “fabrications intended to gain publicity.”
Similar Allegations Surface from All American Girl Contestants
On the heels of Abdul’s filing, two more women came forward January 2nd with sexual assault lawsuits against Lythgoe regarding his conduct during production of his 2007 TLC show All American Girl.
The former reality show contestants accuse Lythgoe of unwanted kissing and groping during filming as young aspiring models and performers seeking their big break.
Their allegations echo the theme of Lythgoe exploiting his powerful industry position and the ambitions of women who felt powerless to speak out against inappropriate behavior at the time.
Timeline of Key Events in Allegations Against Lythgoe
|Paula Abdul serves as judge on American Idol during Lythgoe’s tenure as executive producer
|Alleged assaults against Abdul occur on set, according to lawsuit
|December 30th, 2022
|Abdul files lawsuit in Los Angeles court accusing Lythgoe of sexual assault
|December 31st, 2022
|Lythgoe denies allegations through his attorney
|January 2nd, 2023
|Two more women file lawsuits alleging sexual assault by Lythgoe on set of All American Girl
Industry Investigation Underway, Lythgoe’s Current Show Suspends Production
In response to the escalating accusations, production company 19 Entertainment (part of the American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance franchise) has launched an internal investigation of practices during Lythgoe’s tenure as executive producer.
Lythgoe currently serves as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, which is also produced by 19 Entertainment. The company announced January 3rd that they have halted production on the new season of SYTYCD pending the outcome of their misconduct probe focused on Lythgoe.
So it remains unclear if or when the next season of So You Think You Can Dance will air, as the findings of 19 Entertainment’s workplace culture investigation hang over Lythgoe’s future association with the reality dance competition program.
Legal Experts Expect “Uphill Battle” for Abdul to Prove Allegations
While the recent allegations have placed Lythgoe’s conduct under renewed scrutiny, legal experts note that Abdul and the other accusers face hurdles pursuing their claims in civil court.
With the alleged incidents stretching back many years, attorneys point out challenges related to limited evidence as well as expired statutes of limitations. However, some case law precedents exist allowing litigation related to repressed trauma memories.
Still, specialists observe these cases come down to weighing one side’s word against the other, with credibility key. They expect an “uphill battle” for Abdul’s legal team to definitively prove decades-old assault claims before a jury.
Overall the case appears poised for a lengthy legal fight, unless a settlement occurs resolving the matter out of court. For now the controversy remains very much in the public eye, threatening significant reputational damage and lost opportunities for Lythgoe regardless of eventual legal outcomes.
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