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American Idol Loses a Mastermind

Nigel Lythgoe Mathew Imaging/Getty Images

Nigel Lythgoe is striking before the iron cools off.

The American Idol executive producer, who flashes his extremely pearly whites in front of the camera as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, announced he's leaving the über-successful singing competition, which is heading into its eighth season on a ratings downswing despite still being the most watched show on TV.

"I will step back from my day-to-day producing work on American Idol and will be devoting my time" to a new development venture with 19 Entertainment head and fellow Idol mastermind Simon Fuller, Lythgoe said in a statement obtained Monday by E! News.

"Due to the huge success of So You Think You Can Dance, my summer will be taken up by travels to South Africa, Australia and Canada to work on local versions of the show," the 59-year-old former dancer-choreographer said.

The deal, which encompasses TV, film and stage projects, was also confirmed by the company, with Fuller calling Lythgoe "the best producer I have ever worked with."

Fox admitted that the network is "disappointed," but they wished the Brit well—although no exec can be too happy about the shakeup, especially now that Idol needs to bust out the heavy artillery to avoid losing more than the 2.4 million weekly viewers the show has already dropped between 2007 and 2008.

"He is an extraordinarily talented producer whose creative contributions to the No. 1 show on television have been immeasurable," a Fox rep said.

There's no word yet on who might step in to replace Lythgoe.

Auditions for the eighth season of American Idol kicked off July 17 in San Francisco. Paula, Simon and Randy and their tired, ringing ears are scheduled to touch down in Kansas City, Mo., this Friday.

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