Ryan Seacrest is a man who wears many hats. / Bob D'Amico / ABC
Seacrest's many hats
At ABC: Heir to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.
At Fox: Host of American Idol, a TV ratings juggernaut for more than a decade.
At NBC:Today show special correspondent, joined Olympic coverage.
At E!: Editor-at-large and a fixture on awards show red carpets.
On syndicated radio: On-Air With Ryan Seacrest and American Top 40.
As a producer: Keeping Up With the Kardashians on E! is his reality-TV jewel. Also: ABC’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Bravo’s Shahs of Sunset, and E!’s Married to Jonas.
As a mogul: Seacrest Global Group just bought Civic Entertainment Group, which provides creative marketing to CNN, ESPN, HBO, NBC Universal, the NFL.
As a philanthropist: His foundation built radio/TV studios at children’s hospitals in Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia.
It will be a bittersweet New Year’s Eve for Ryan Seacrest, the first time he has hosted Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve without its namesake, who passed away in April.
“Personally it will be tough for me not to turn to him at two minutes before midnight, which was our routine, and he would take it 30 seconds before midnight and do that count,” Seacrest says of Monday’s broadcast (ABC, 10 ET/PT), which includes tributes to Clark. “It’s definitely a mixed emotion.”
Clark, a successful TV producer and a ubiquitous host, had a strong influence on the boyish-looking Seacrest, 38, whose accomplishments in front of and behind the camera mirror those of his friend and mentor. (See his many hats at left.)
“Dick was an incredibly hard worker,” Seacrest says. “He said when the bigger opportunities come your way, that’s when you push yourself more.”
Seacrest is happily pushing.
“I think the reason I do so much is because I still can’t believe to a degree that I have done some of it. And I don’t want it to go away. I love it. And so I find it difficult to say no,” he says, taking a sip from a bottle of water in his sun-splashed Los Angeles office.
A few floors down is Seacrest’s radio studio, across the street is the production studio for his Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and a few blocks away is his American Idol set.
He throws himself into the day, sometimes arriving just minutes before his 6 a.m. radio show. “I can push it to about 5:40. I’m pretty good at getting here quickly,” he says. “Getting up is never easy, but once I’m on the air, there’s a rush to it.”
On this day, he did the radio show and sandwiched a workout between a string of meetings.
“The working out is something I like,” he says. “I used to feel guilty taking an hour in the middle of the day to do it. ... Now, I don’t. I block that hour out and don’t let it get canceled because I do find that that makes me sane.”
Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC Television Group, sees parallels between Seacrest and Clark. On camera, Seacrest is “authentic. You feel his joy and excitement, and you feel how much he loves the talent he’s introducing you to or talking about,” she says. “As a producer, I believe Ryan has a great eye for talent. He understands how to develop talent.”
Seacrest is busy year-round but goes into overdrive before the New Year’s Eve show, where he is an executive producer as well as host. A couple of weeks later, the 12th season of Idol premieres (Fox, Jan. 16, 8 p.m. ET/PT); a few weeks after that, the live performance shows begin. He also is working on potential series, including the pilot for the game show Draw Something on CBS, which would give him a connection to each of the Big 4 broadcast networks. Then sprinkle in red-carpet shows for the Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars, all in a couple of months.
“I’ll take a three-day weekend somewhere,” he jokes.
Seacrest, an Idol original who started with judge Randy Jackson in 2002, says he remains excited about the long-running show, which this season will feature three new, high-profile judges: Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban. He praises the judges, calling Jackson “a pro,” Urban “so talented, very true to his country roots,” Carey “one of the greatest singers of all time” and Minaj a hitmaker who “has had an amazing recent run.”
“I find them to be, in a respectful way, very direct in what they think and what they say to the contestant,” he says. “They know what they’re looking for.”
As for what they say to each other — as evidenced by a recorded confrontation between Minaj and Carey at one audition — Seacrest shows diplomatic skills.
“There’s spirit between the judges. It’s spirited,” he says. Asked to characterize the diva relationship, he continues, “I think ‘spirited’ captures what it is we’ve got there.” Pushed again on the dynamic, he simply smiles.
Seacrest says he would like to remain on the show for the length of its run. “I enjoy it. I love what it stands for. I love walking out on that stage. I love the live results show. I love the live performance show. I wouldn’t mind doing it for a long time,” he says. “The true impetus to my success is American Idol. That series alone and the opportunities it has created I could never imagine.”
It works the other way, too. Idol owes some of its success to having Seacrest as host.
“It’s very easy to look at what Ryan does and dismiss it until you see ... problems that other presenters have who are not as good,” says Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. “One of his biggest talents, and it’s something I think he’s learned over the years, is rhythm. He doesn’t wear an earpiece. He’s not waiting for a signal ... of how to control those moments to keep the tension there.”
Taylor Swift, the headliner in the New Year’s special, vouches for Seacrest’s skills. “I’ve done interviews with Ryan year after year, and I always come away from the experience feeling like he’s one of the classiest guys in the industry,” she says via e-mail. “He carries himself in a way that shows respect to the musicians he interviews, and that’s why he’s been one of my favorite people to work with.“
If Idol has been the biggest springboard for Seacrest’s success, it was his first love, radio, that prepared him for it. He got his first radio station job in hometown Atlanta as a teen.
“I don’t think I would have any kind of confidence in hosting a live television show if I hadn’t done radio years before and lived through some live experiences on the radio,” he says. “Things go wrong, things happen, disaster strikes. Living through some of those things, being live, helped me have a little bit of confidence to start hosting Idol.”
When not working, Seacrest is with his girlfriend, actress and dancer Julianne Hough.
“We have a great relationship. She understands my schedule, I understand her schedule. We work hard to make sure that if we have to be in different places that we meet somewhere in between,” he says, having just returned with her from a quick trip to Paris. “I’m very, very happy. We’re very happy.”
In his spare time, he likes playing with their two dogs, eating out or staying in to cook. He’s taken up ping-pong.
When — or if — he gets the time, Seacrest wants to visit foreign lands, including India and other parts of Asia, and go on safari in Africa. “Because I’m on the air so much and tethered to a place, my [bucket] list always involves travel that I’ve never been able to do.”
But that will have to wait. The new year and new assignments beckon.