Kate Ward
July 05, 2010 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Naturally, So You Think You Can Dance is in our Must List Issue as one of our summer TV musts. Since 2005, the Fox reality dancing competition has been as synonymous with summer as ice cream and flip flops. (That is, if you don’t count that ill-advised fall season…but let’s just forget that happened, shall we?) Of course, the series has switched things up this year, adding an all-stars element and swapping Mia Michaels in for Mary Murphy as permanent judge on the panel alongside executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman. So what better way to toast the new season — and their placement on our list — than to chat with the three judges about the season 7, and the new chemistry on the panel?

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was there any hint of doubt in your mind that this season’s new all-stars concept would work?

NIGEL LYTHGOE: I’ll talk to you about being confident about how [I thought] this is going to work with the all-stars, but when you’ve never done it before, you can only believe it’s going to work. There’s always a little bit of you thinking, oh, I hope it works. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. But I hadn’t had the experience of doing it before. Generally, you can say it will work when you had the experience, but no one’s done it before…. At least [with] Dancing With the Stars, once you get your partner, you’ve got your partner for life. So it’s going to be interesting. I hope it works. I truly think it will raise the standard of dance again and lift the bar. Fingers crossed.

ADAM SHANKMAN: What’s happened is, [the new format] has made the contestants get better faster. And what I found is that I’ve had no problem focusing on the contestants and not the all-stars. And [the all-stars] have just dragged their partners up so well. And they really inspire. They practically mentor them.

MIA MICHAELS: It brings a whole [different] strength and professionalism to the stage. The performances are so over-the-top. You know me, I don’t get excited much. Nothing really excites me. And I was jumping out of my chair a couple times [during the first performance show]. Dancers are so competitive that I feel like when they’re put next to someone considered more seasoned and professional, they’re not gonna sit back. They’re going to fight. So I think it’s great. I had a feeling it would work before we tried it.

Some people do feel wistful for the days when we got to watch partners grow together, though.

AS: You know what? I don’t. I don’t really care about that. The whole thing is, I like being able to watch the individual people grow. In seasons past, I always thought there were oftentimes somebody in the pairing that was keeping the other person back. So I like this. I was concerned about it too, but now I’m happy.

Since the panel is different this year — with Mia replacing Mary Murphy as permanent judge — has there been a change in chemistry that you’ve noticed?

NL: I think Mia and Mary come from different angles. Mia is always going to search for the artistry in the dancer. The soul, the passion. Mary will certainly go for the performance side of it. At the same time, we all meet somewhere at the end of it, which is that we want good dancers and good performances. Mia is an awful lot quieter than Mary. Better on the ears. But they will share that seat. One will choreograph one week, one will judge.

AS: There’s just a more — this is going to sound like a very strange word — but there’s a more sensual dynamic up there, because both Mia and I are a little over-emotional or something. Mary really kept her cards close to the vest a little bit more. But yeah, it’s a little goofier. Mia and I get very goofy together.

MM: It is different sitting in the middle of those two. It feels different. The whole thing feels different this season. It’s just turbo energy, turbo talent, and me sitting there — I have a great relationship with both of them. It’s fun. I’m cracking up half the time because [of] Adam. It’s very alive. There’s a very strong heartbeat in the show right now that I feel hasn’t been there for awhile. I feel it. I feel alive sitting there. Usually in the past I’ve sat there and I’ve viewed, and now I feel inside of it. I feel a really big part of it. I really feel like Mama Mia now.

Image credit: Mathieu Young/Fox

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