Nigel Lythgoe has stepped down as a judge of So You Think You Can Dance amid a lawsuit by Paula Abdul accusing him of sexual assault, Variety reported on Friday (Jan. 5).
“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, who is also an executive producer of the show, said in a statement to the publication. “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.”
Fox, 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions added in a statement the upcoming season, which will premiere on March 4, “will proceed, although without Nigel Lythgoe, to ensure the show remains committed to the contestants, who have worked incredibly hard for the opportunity to compete on our stage.”
Allison Holker and Maksim Chmerkovskiy have been previously announced as judges on the upcoming 18th season.
Lythgoe’s departure comes amid a lawsuit from Paula Abdul, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday (Dec. 29) and obtained by Billboard, claiming that the former American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance producer sexually assaulted her on two occasions. The first instance allegedly occurred during one of the early seasons of American Idol and the second took place in 2014 when she was in talks to judge So You Think You Can Dance.
Abdul alleges in the suit that Lythgoe first sexually assaulted her in an elevator of a hotel where they were both staying while traveling for one of Idol‘s “initial seasons.” It does not state a specific year the alleged incident occurred.
Abdul’s complaint claims that Lythgoe sexually assaulted Abdul again in 2014 when she was approached for a judging position on So You Think You Can Dance. The alleged incident took place during a dinner at his home where the two were supposed to discuss her professional opportunities, according to the lawsuit. See the full details of her lawsuit here.
Lythgoe denied the claims, saying in a statement that he was “shocked and saddened” to hear of the allegations made by Abdul, who he said he considered a “dear” and “entirely platonic” friend, The Associated Press reports.
“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,” Lythgoe said in the statement. “But I can promise that I will fight this appalling smear with everything I have.”