Ryan Seacrest on 'American Idol's' Emmy Chances: 'It's Now or Never'

Frank W Ockenfels 3

The host and media mogul talks to THR about his eleventh year on the job (the last under his current "Idol" contract), Jennifer Lopez's return, and who he'll be taking as his date to the Emmys this year -- hint: it's not his mom.

With all the chatter concerning Jennifer Lopez’s return to American Idol (finally confirmed this week), it’s easy to overlook the other show principal who could be eyeing the door: Ryan Seacrest.

That’s right, the 36-year-old Georgia native who logs in more broadcast hours than any entertainer working today (between TV, radio and web, not to mention Twitter and his 4.9 million followers) is on the last of his five-year contract with the Fox ratings juggernaut, which has earned the media mogul some $45 million. What will his next move be?

By Seacrest’s own admission, it might be too early to tell, but there is plenty to anticipate in the here and now, like his upcoming Emmy nomination for Outstanding Host for a Reality Competition (announced September 10 at the Creative Arts Emmys), this weekend’s Kardashian wedding special on E!, produced by his own Ryan Seacrest Productions, and season 11 of American Idol, which began taping its audition episodes with judging panel fully in tact on Wednesday. The show is also up for Outstanding Reality Competition for the ninth year running. 

As for the state of Seacrest, the always affable host gave The Hollywood Reporter an update just after shooting wrapped on day one.

The Hollywood Reporter: You’re back at American Idol for the eleventh year, is it sort of like riding a bike? You just jump right in?

Ryan Seacrest: Yes, it's like riding a bike but every year you're not quite sure what make that bike is going to be. Is it going to be a Predator or a Mongoose? [Laughs] It was a good day. It’s like the first day back at school, where I don't even remember what the contestants were singing because we were all gossiping with each other the whole time. We haven't seen each other in a few weeks. It's fun.

THR: And of course Jennifer’s announcement came that very morning, was there ever a time when you thought she might not return to the show?

Seacrest: You never know, right? Not until they officially close the deal and tell you that she's coming back. I was hopeful because we had such a great season last year, I love her to death and I think that she fit in brilliantly. We need her role on the show. So I was very relieved to hear that she signed on again.

THR: And on this first day of taping, has she been changing up her style at all?

Seacrest: She probably felt a little bit more comfortable, but I think Jennifer got past any sort of training wheels by the first couple of weeks of the last audition tour. So I would imagine it's a little bit easier the second time around… She seemed in very good spirits. She had shrimp and some sort of meat on her plate for lunch. She wore fuschia. Everyone is good. We actually sat down and had lunch and laughed and talked about what we had done over the summer and it seemed like we had never put the show down.

THR: Idol is up for eight Emmys this year, and in its decade on the air, it’s only won one, a technical award for direction in 2007. Is it now or never?

Seacrest: It seems to be. If it's going to happen, this would be the year. We have been on the air for now 11 seasons. We had a transition season last year and I think there was some doubt from people [as to] what would the show do, what would it deliver, how would the changes affect the ratings. But fortunately, we had one of our best seasons. We had a new energy and new dimensions to the show with Steven and Jennifer; there was a different mood, a different temperature, tone and texture to last year's American Idol. So I guess if we're going to do it, this is probably the year.

THR:  What does an Emmy win mean to you?

Seacrest: It's special and flattering to be nominated. We're grateful that we're considered every year, but we want to win it. It would be nice to have one Emmy that says American Idol on the bottom of it. It is important to us.

THR: Other than industry accolades, why is it so important?

Seacrest: It's a great story to tell, isn't it? It's a great memory. This run has had so many and [an Emmy] is on of the most prestigious memories that we can all share. So I think we'd all like to have that sitting in the house.


THR: Of course, Idol is never without its share of controversy. This week it’s Adam Levine’s cover story in Out Magazine accusing the show of discouraging contestants from being openly gay. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

Seacrest: I have not read it [yet], so I haven't given it thought actually, but I don't believe there is any agenda or conspiracy on this television show. I think that if you go and you talk to the contestants about it, you'll hear the same thing. It's also a live television show and I feel like I stand up there and encourage people to speak their mind and talk about what they're feeling and the emotions and the thoughts that they have while they're in the midst of this incredible roller coaster. So I would guess that if people haven't talked about it, it was by choice in the past.

THR: On his Behind the Music, Adam Lambert commented that he didn't feel comfortable putting that out there while he was on the show. And in previous years, contestants such as Clay Aiken and even season 1 alums like Jim Verraros and RJ Helton weren’t “out” on the show. Is that the nature of playing to the middle?

Seacrest: That’s a question to ask them. But I would imagine that it was a calculation they made for whatever reason. However, I think today in the world that we live in, being honest about who you are as a performer and feeling comfortable with it as a person is probably the best policy.

THR: This is your last year under contract for Idol. What are you thinking beyond season 11?

Seacrest: I have not even gone down that path of thinking about this being the last season. It's actually strange to hear it. Because I've been doing it for so long, it's part of my life, it's engraved in my schedule and I love doing it. So I hope to continue to do it.

THR: Idol aside, you’ve accomplished so much. What's left on your to-do list?

Seacrest: I like the ability to be in front of the audience and talk to them on a regular basis, which is why I stay on the radio. I love the vehicle that American Idol has been for music and even for me personally. I like the company that I’ve had the opportunity to build, however, I'm interested in building the organization that's not just me in front of the camera, me on TV all the time. So I think that anything that I would do in the future or certainly an important part of my calculation, would be how can I augment that part of my agenda and goals as well as continue to be on the air? As I think forward, I make decisions in tandem.

THR: As the producer of reality shows, when you hear about something like the suicide of Russell Armstrong, husband to Taylor Armstrong of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fame, does it give you pause?

Seacrest: Yes. You do take a step back and think about it. Certainly a situation like that is tragic.

THR: Does a tragedy like that signal a wake-up call to reality TV producers? Should there be more stringent psychological testing?

Seacrest: I don't know. In terms of the psychological analysis, for the competition shows they do quite a lot of that in terms of the background checking. But it's just one of those unfortunate situations.

THR: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which you produce, was not eligible for an Emmy this year...

Seacrest: I was hoping it was going to be eligible because it's a show that accomplished something important and we all worked very hard on it -- our crew and Jamie as well as all the people involved in southern California. It was disappointing, but I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles. We still got one last year which is nice. 

THR: The Emmys are a work day for you, but who will you bring and what will you wear?

Seacrest: I will wear Burberry and I will bring Julianne [Hough]. And yes, I'm out there working the beginning, red carpet part of it. Then I literally finish the last break on E! and run to get into my seat. But it's fun and I'm always glad to sit down, relax and watch the show. And it would be nice to walk away with one for Idol this year.