Paula Abdul accuses ‘American Idol’ executive producer Nigel Lythgoe of sexual assault in new lawsuit

December 31, 2023
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Paula Abdul accused “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed Friday.

The Grammy-winning singer said one assault happened in the early 2000s and a second around 2015 while she was a judge on the television competition shows, according to a suit filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court under the Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act, which allows sexual assault suits to be made even if the statute of limitations has passed.

Abdul, 61, alleged that during one of the initial seasons of “American Idol,” where she served as a judge from 2002 to 2009, Lythgoe “shoved” her against the wall of an elevator, “grabbed her genitals and breasts, and began shoving his tongue down her throat.”

Abdul tried to push him away and ran out of the elevator when the doors opened, it stated.

Following the alleged assault, a tearful Abdul told one of her representatives but “ultimately decided not to take action for fear that Lythgoe would have her fired from ‘American Idol,'” according to the suit.

It also alleged that Abdul was “discriminated against in terms of compensation and benefits compared to one of the show’s male judges and the host” and was bullied, harassed and taunted during her time on the show.

Lythgoe said Saturday that the allegations, which he called an “appalling smear,” are false and “deeply offensive to me and to everything I stand for.”

“To say that I am shocked and saddened by the allegations made against me by Paula Abdul is a wild understatement,” Lythgoe said. “For more than two decades, Paula and I have interacted as dear — and entirely platonic — friends and colleagues.”

The lawsuit also named 19 Entertainment Inc., FremantleMedia North America Inc., American Idol Productions Inc. and Dance Nation Productions as defendants. NBC News reached out to Fremantle for comment on Saturday.

Nigel Lythgoe.
Nigel Lythgoe.Jesse Grant / Getty Images file

The second alleged assault occurred after Abdul signed a contract in January 2015 to appear as a judge on Season 12 of “So You Think You Can Dance,” the lawsuit said. Abdul said Lythgoe invited her to his home for what she believed was a dinner to discuss business opportunities.

Toward the end of the evening, Lythgoe allegedly “forced himself on top of Abdul while she was seated on his couch and attempted to kiss her while proclaiming that the two would make an excellent ‘power couple,'” according to the suit.

Abdul pushed him off her, told him she was uninterested in his advances and left his home, according to the suit.

“As with the earlier incident, Abdul feared she would be retaliated against or blackballed if she spoke out about the incident,” the suit stated.

NBC News reached out to Abdul’s representative for further comment.

The lawsuit alleged that while “So You Think You Can Dance” was filming in Las Vegas in 2015, Lythgoe approached Abdul and one of her assistants from behind and groped the assistant without her consent.

Lythgoe was a main judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” for 16 seasons. Last year, he said in a post on X that he was not asked to be a judge for Season 17 but is expected to return for Season 18, Entertainment Weekly reported.

Abdul said she remained silent for years “due to fear of speaking out” against a powerful television producer “who could easily break her career as a television personality,” the suit stated. She said she also feared being ostracized and blackballed.

“In light of the Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act, AB 2777, Abdul is no longer willing to remain silent,” the lawsuit stated.

The alleged incidents caused Abdul to suffer anxiety, fear, humiliation and severe emotional distress, according to the suit. She is seeking unspecified damages.





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