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

Dec 31, 2023, 12:55 PM

Paula Abdul attends the World Premiere of Warner Bros.' "The Color Purple" at Academy Museum of Mot...

Paula Abdul attends the World Premiere of Warner Bros.' "The Color Purple" at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on December 06, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Leon Bennett, Getty Images)

(Leon Bennett, Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paula Abdul has accused former “American Idol” producer Nigel Lythgoe of sexually assaulting her in the early 2000s when she was a judge on the reality competition show, according to a new lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed Friday in Los Angeles also accuses Lythgoe of sexually assaulting Abdul after she left “American Idol” and became a judge on Lythgoe’s other competition show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, as Abdul has done.

In a statement Saturday, Abdul’s lawyer Douglas Johnson applauded the singer and dancer for speaking out publicly.

“It was clearly a difficult decision to make, but Ms. Abdul knows that she stands both in the shoes and on the shoulders of many other similarly situated survivors, and she is determined to see that justice is done,” Johnson said.

Lythgoe said 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.

“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.”

The lawsuit states Abdul remained silent for years about the alleged assaults out of fear of retaliation by “one of the most well-known producers of television competition shows.”

Before “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” on which Lythgoe served as a judge for 16 seasons, he was a producer on the British show “Pop Idol,” which became a global franchise that includes the U.S. iteration starring Abdul.

According to the lawsuit, the first sexual assault occurred while Abdul and Lythgoe were on the road filming auditions for an earlier season of “American Idol,” which premiered in 2002.

Abdul says Lythgoe groped her in the elevator of their hotel after a day of filming and “began shoving his tongue down her throat.” Abdul pushed him away and ran to her hotel room when the elevator doors opened.

“In tears, Abdul quickly called one of her representatives to inform them of the assault,” the lawsuit says, “but ultimately decided not to take action for fear that Lythgoe would have her fired from American Idol.”

Abdul, a Grammy- and Emmy-winning artist, starred as a judge for the first eight seasons, leaving in 2009.

In 2015, Abdul became a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance,” appearing alongside Lythgoe.

Around that time, Abdul alleged in the lawsuit, Lythgoe forced himself on top of her during a dinner at his home and tried to kiss her. Abdul said she again pushed Lythgoe away and immediately left.

Abdul left the reality show after two seasons. She has not worked with Lythgoe since.

The lawsuit also accuses Lythgoe of taunting Abdul about the alleged assaults, saying to her years later that “they should celebrate” because “the statute of limitations had run.”

Abdul filed the suit days before the Dec. 31 deadline of a California law that opened a one-year window for victims to file lawsuits involving sexual abuse claims after the statute of limitations has run out.

More than 3,700 legal claims were filed under a similar law in New York that expired last month.

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