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RYAN SEACREST, 'AMERICAN IDOL'

The Hosts With The Most

They welcome us. Now Emmy welcomes them.

June 11, 2008|Denise Martin | Special to The Times

WE'RE on a first-name basis with them: Tyra is fierce, and Ty wipes tears even as he swings a hammer. Their accessories are iconic: Howie's got models with briefcases, and Jeff presides over fifth-graders. And then there are those signature lines: Padma doles a gentle blow ("Please pack your knives and go"), while Heidi's kiss-off is less than sweet ("You're out.") No wonder Emmy has decided to give it up for the hosts of prime time, a job that can entail herding contestants through a worldwide scavenger hunt, judging amateur dancers or building dream homes. We talk to some of those who will be in pursuit of Emmy's first reality TV show host award, including "American Idol" frontman Ryan Seacrest, "So You Think You Can Dance" emcee Cat Deeley, Jeff "The Tribe Has Spoken" Probst of "Survivor," and the well-traveled "Amazing Race" guide Phil Keoghan.

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AFTER David Cook was crowned king and Fox's "American Idol" wound down for another year, Ryan Seacrest jetted off to Europe for 10 days of some much-deserved R&R. The only problem is the ubiquitous TV and radio host -- he continues to anchor the weekday entertainment show "E! News" and KIIS-FM's (102.7) morning show -- is just not programmed for relax mode.

Vacation means "four hours of 'vacationing' a day and checking my BlackBerry every half hour because I'm obsessed and I can't stop thinking about work," Seacrest says by phone somewhere off the coast of France. That's no lip service either. His fans can take comfort in the fact that if Britney makes a reappearance soon, he'll still deliver the news: "I've set up a mobile radio studio on the yacht I'm on. If there's an emergency, I'll be covering it live from the Mediterranean Sea."

There may not be a full-service show host as well known right now, which alone makes Seacrest a likely shoo-in for a nomination in the Emmys' inaugural reality TV host category. In addition to "Idol," "E! News" and KIIS, Seacrest runs Ryan Seacrest Productions -- which produces the E! series "Denise Richards: It's Complicated" and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" -- invests in restaurants, hawks Crest toothpaste and Scope mouthwash, and -- we kid you not -- designs clothing. (It is, perhaps, a good thing for him that his 2004 talk show "On-Air with Ryan Seacrest" didn't work out.)

His twice-weekly duties on "American Idol" are something of a live juggling act as well. When contestant Ramiele Malubay broke into uncontrollable sobbing after being cut from the competition this season, Seacrest helped soothe her into singing her goodbye number. When Paula Abdul mistakenly critiqued a Jason Castro performance he hadn't even delivered yet, Seacrest helped shuffle the incident along with a good-natured, "You're seein' the future, baby, you're seein' the future!"

Those hiccups, he says, only add to the show's appeal. "We're not perfect, and I think that authenticity makes it better. It's pretty obvious by now that we don't write our lines." And the sparks that fly between him and Simon Cowell? "We like to argue on TV and we're very competitive but he's also become a close friend," he says, but not without adding, "You know, part of the beauty and satisfaction of this new award is the fact that Simon can't win it. It makes me happy."

His instincts kicked in early. "Fifth grade. Pledge of Allegiance. By memory. No dead air. No 'um.' That's when I knew," he says. "It's the one thing I feel comfortable doing. I can be boring and bland but I'm just comfortable talking," which he says is the job's only real requisite. "You should be able to watch anyone in this category and feel like you could do our job because it looks effortless. That's when I know I'm watching someone good."

But is he ever at a loss for words? "Actually, when I have down time, I do friends' outgoing [phone] messages. It's a hobby," he says only half-jokingly. He last recorded one for NBC Entertainment President Ben Silverman. "It's a good one. I did it in a sort of Wink Martindale meets Monty Hall voice."

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