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Nigel Lythgoe Finalizes Deal to Return to 'American Idol'

Nigel Lythgoe has finalized a deal to return as executive producer of American Idol, according to multiple sources close to the negotiation.

"Working as executive producer on American Idol for its first seven years not only was an inspirational journey into the heart of American pop culture, it opened my eyes to the untapped potential of the incredibly dynamic young people in this world," Lythgoe said in a statement. "American Idol became a juggernaut of epic proportions, but to me it was always like home. I am elated and honored to be rejoining childhood friend and fellow executive producer Ken Warwick, and look forward to creating more magic."

Lythgoe's deal is the first of multiple Idol dominoes to fall as the show sets a new judging panel for the upcoming 10th season, which is scheduled to begin production in September.  

Lythgoe left the show in 2008 citing his responsibilities on Fox's So You Think You Can Dance. The dance competition show, which traditionally airs in the summer, was a critical component of a resurgent fall for Fox last season. Lythgoe will remain on Dance as a judge and executive producer. Fremantle's Cecile Frot-Coutaz and Ken Warwick and creator Simon Fuller will remain as executive producers on Idol.

"I am so happy to be welcoming Nigel back to the Idol family," added Fuller. "He is, without a doubt, the most accomplished executive producer I have ever worked with. Nigel helped to define the show I created almost 10 years ago, mentoring our judging panel and nurturing our talent. His unbridled passion has been missed."

Lythgoe's return comes as the top-rated show is undergoing a near-complete overhaul on its judging panel in the wake of Simon Cowell's exit at the end of the most recent season. Last week, Ellen DeGeneres announced that she will not return for a second season on the show, despite Fox Chairman Peter Rice's attempts to talk her into staying. Speaking to reporters at the annual Television Critics Association press tour on Monday, Rice also disavowed widespread reports that the Idol judging panel was all but set with Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson signed and Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler very close to finalizing a deal.

"The only thing I can tell you with any certainty right now is no one has signed a deal yet to be on American Idol who was not on last year," said Rice on Monday, adding that "some of [the reports are] correct and some [are] wildly incorrect and I'm not going to tell you which is which."

There has been a steady stream of candidates floated to fill out the judges table; everyone from Harry Connick Jr. and Justin Timberlake to Sean Combs and Jessica Simpson has been rumored to be in talks to join the show.

The judges are the most significant of multiple changes in store next season. The age for contestants has also been lowered to 15 from 16 and the Wednesday-night results show will be shortened to 30 minutes from an hour.

Last season, Idol averaged 25.2 million viewers for Tuesday's performance show and 23.6 million for Wednesday's results show. Overall the show was down about 9% year-to-year.