Ryan Seacrest Returning as Host of 'American Idol'

Seacrest is very much in.

After many months of negotiations, the longtime host of American Idol has finalized a deal to return to the franchise that made him a star. He joins Katy Perry, the only confirmed judge, on the ABC reboot, which is expected to roll out with heavy fanfare this spring. He used his other TV platform, Live with Kelly and Ryan, to make the announcement Thursday. Or rather, his co-host Kelly Ripa used it to make the announcement, but Seacrest insisted it was "absolutely" confirmed, "without a doubt."

Following a few minutes spent talking about the New York heat, Ripa excitedly revealed that Seacrest would be returning to the storied franchise after checking with him that she could reveal the big news. He suggested going back to the show would be like returning to "a 15-year relationship," not knowing why the relationship ended. "The show is going, we thought well, and then all of a sudden we broke up," he said of the end of Idol on Fox. "I thought it would be great to get back together at some point."

Ripa praised him for knowing how to deal with contestants who have just received the devastating news that they have been voted off. "You make that show. You are the heart and soul," she told her Live co-host of three months. "People really don't understand how difficult it is to be there, be supportive, keep the show moving at the clip that it moves and then back away when you need to back away … and step away when you need to step in … because you make it look so easy, no one understands how difficult it is. Only you can do it."

ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey was similarly enthusiastic. “So much of American Idol’s overwhelming success can be attributed to Ryan, whose larger-than-life personality and laudable dedication to creating quality entertainment has made him a true master of his craft,” she said in a statement. “His talent is limitless, and I can’t think of a more appropriate person to honor the Idol legacy as it takes on new life than the man who has been there through it all.”

Seacrest added in a statement of his own, “It’s genuinely hard to put into words what American Idol means to me. I’m so grateful for the show and all the career and life opportunities it’s allowed me to experience. It’s been an incredible journey from day one. To be asked to return this year, at my new home at Disney|ABC, is an honor, if not a bit surreal.”

Perry welcomed Seacrest to the show via a tweet.

To make it all work, Seacrest is expected to be in Los Angeles for live Idol shows on Sunday evenings, and then fly overnight to appear on Live and then do his iHeartRadio drive-time show on Monday morning. In a bid for increased synergy, Seacrest revealed on Thursday's Live that eliminated Idol contestants would be stopping by Live after they exit Idol. Auditions for the new iteration of Idol, which spent its first 15 seasons on Fox, will begin in mid-August, though Seacrest will likely only attend a handful.

The news comes nearly three months after ABC executives first suggested Seacrest’s involvement was highly likely, at that time a logical conclusion considering he had recently joined the ABC/Disney family as co-host of Live. That he had also relocated to New York for the latter would certainly complicate things, but logistical complexities had never seemed to get in Seacrest’s way. “I think he can do both; he thinks he can do both, but he's giving it some serious thought,” ABC’s reality chief Rob Mills told THR in early May. Seacrest seemed similarly if cautiously optimistic when discussing the possibility with Ripa on air around the same time.

As THR revealed in a recent cover story, the plan was to have Seacrest's deal closed in time to announce at ABC's upfront presentation in mid-May. Instead, the platform was used to announce a deal for Perry, whose traffic-stopping $25 million fee, a new talent show record, would soon leak to the press. Multiple insiders say that Fremantle, which suddenly had significantly less give in its Idol budget, came back to Seacrest with an offer roughly half the size of its first. The supposed justification — that the new arrangement would require less of its famously busy host — didn't make it any less insulting.

By early June, Seacrest’s camp had requested his name be withdrawn from the negotiation process. ABC's top executives, allegedly blind­sided by Fremantle's low-ball offer, were sent scrambling, according to sources close to the negotiation. Ultimately, Seacrest's new bosses were able to make it right, or at least considerably more palatable for their newest and biggest star. Their offer included, among other things, a salary north of $10 million, putting him back in the general vicinity that he'd been in at the show's conclusion. Still, the process dragged on for several more weeks as the many players involved squabbled over other facets of the deal.

Working in ABC’s favor from the outset was Seacrest’s affection for the singing competition, which spent nearly a decade as the No. 1 show on television. “I've always loved the show,” he told THR this spring. “And if I could do it forever, I would do it forever." Lest anyone forgets, he closed out the fifteenth and then-final season on Fox with the famous signoff, “Good night America … for now,” in part because he didn’t believe that would or should be it.

Idol wouldn’t be Idol without Ryan,” Core Media Group CEO Peter Hurwitz said Thursday, with Fremantle's Trish Kinane calling Seacrest “our own series icon.” With his pact now finalized, the companies will immediately turn their attention to filling out the judges' panel with whatever money they have left.

Seacrest's deal was brokered by a team that included Hansen Jacobsen, CAA and top executives from Ryan Seacrest Enterprises, COO/CFO Jeff Refold and president Kelly Mullens Brown.