Helping to find America’s favorite dancer! When So You Think You Can Dance debuted on FOX in 2005, a panel of dance experts and enthusiasts were tapped to seek out the best up-and-coming performers.
Nigel Lythgoe, who cocreated the dance competition series alongside Simon Fuller, served as one of the longtime judges since the season 1 premiere. However, after cueing the audition music and marveling over the talents of the Top 12 for 16 seasons, he announced his exit in March 2022.
“I am so thrilled that America’s young aspiring dance talent will get to work with some of our greatest creative choreographers,” Lythgoe tweeted before season 17 began. “On a personally sad note, I have not been asked to be on the judging panel this season. I don’t know who will be saying ‘Cue Music’ but I wish them well.”
Lythgoe and Mary Murphy — the conductor of the self-proclaimed “Hot Tamale Train” — were both replaced in favor of a new judging panel when the FOX series returned from its two-year hiatus amid the coronavirus pandemic. Former contestant, All-Star mentor and choreographer Stephen “tWitch” Boss joined forces with JoJo Siwa and Matthew Morrison to find the country’s next top dancer. The show, hosted by Cat Deeley, hands out a $100,000 prize to the eventual winner after they prove their versatile performing prowess.
“I have been such a fan of the show for many, many years,” the Glee alum told Playbill ahead of the season premiere in May 2022. “I spent a couple of years in London doing a similar show called The Greatest Dancer and I was able to reach the next generation of artists and help them come into their own and find their potential and greatness.”
Morrison continued: “I’m well-versed in so many different practices of dance, so I am in a good position to give my thoughts. I like that the show talks about looking for America’s Favorite Dancer and I look forward to seeing all people having to get out of their comfort zone. Like, if they are a ballroom dancer, they must do contemporary and all this other stuff. That is what makes the show so exciting.”
After the trio sat through cross-country auditions and presided over the challenging choreography round, Us Weekly exclusively confirmed that Morrison was leaving the series following a “minor infraction” on set. A source told Us that he was accused of sending “inappropriate” texts to a female SYTYCD contestant.
“It’s really unfortunate to have to sit here and defend myself and my family against blatantly untrue statements made anonymously,” the Broadway vet said in a June 2022 Instagram video, denying the allegations. “I have nothing to hide, so in the interest of transparency, I will read to you the one message that I wrote to a dancer on the show: ‘Hey, it’s Matthew. If you don’t mind, would love to get your number and talk you through some things.’ The end.”
Leah Remini — who previously competed on season 17 of Dancing With the Stars and calls herself a “dance enthusiast” — was tapped to take his place.
“I’m thrilled to share the news that I’ll be joining So You Think You Can Dance as a judge. I look forward to guiding these incredibly talented artists as a fan of the show and a great admirer of dancers,” the Second Act actress wrote via Instagram at the time. “I can’t wait to work with @itsjojosiwa, @sir_twitch_alot and @catdeeley!”
Scroll below for all the SYTYCD judges through the years and why they left the show: