Nigel Lythgoe exits ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ amid sexual assault lawsuits

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Nigel Lythgoe announced he will step down as a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” for the upcoming season, following the filing of two sexual asault lawsuits.

“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. 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,” Lythgoe said in a statement to NBC News. “In the meantime, I am dedicating myself to clearing my name and restoring my reputation.”

In a lawsuit filed Dec. 29, Paula Abdul accused Lythgoe, who also serves as executive producer for the competition dance show, of sexually assaulting her during an early season of “American Idol.” She said that he “shoved” her against a wall in an elevator at a hotel and “grabbed her genitals and breasts, and began shoving his tongue down her throat.”

Another lawsuit filed Jan. 2, accuses Lythgoe of forcibly attempting to kiss two unnamed contestants on reality competition show “All American Girl” while they were at a wrap party in 2003. The lawsuit also alleges that Lythgoe had “walked around the set and dressing rooms and openly swatted and groped Plaintiffs’ and other contestants’ buttocks.”

Sony Pictures Television’s 19 Entertainment, which co-produces “So You Think You Can Dance,” has reportedly opened an investigation of Lythgoe, per Variety.

Lythgoe has been a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” since its beginning in 2005. In a statement to TODAY.com, Fox, 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions said the show “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.”

The 18th season is set to air March 4 with Allison Holker and Maksim Chmerkovskiy as judges, but no decision has been made on Lythgoe's replacement, the companies added.

Abdul was previously a judge on both “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol,” which Lythgoe also produced.

According to the lawsuit, Abdul said she left a dinner at Lythgoe's house where he “forced himself on top” of her while she was sitting on his couch and “attempted to kiss her,” saying they would “make an excellent ‘power couple.’” Following the alleged event, Abdul said she “feared she would be retaliated against or blackballed if she spoke out about the incident.”

Lythgoe called the accusations an “appalling smear” in a statement, adding that the lawsuit is “untrue.”

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

TODAY.com has reached out to representatives for Abdul for comment, but did not hear back at the time this story was published.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com