Ryan Seacrest is hosting the Emmys Sunday night because, well, he really doesn’t have anything else better going on.
Face it, the guy needs the work. What else has he got to do? He's only the signature voice on a five-hour L.A. radio show, host of syndicated radio show countdown “American Top 40,” welcoming in the new year from Times Square every Dec. 31 on ABC, running his own television production company, anchoring and producing “E! News,” hosting all the awards-show red-carpet coverage for E!, talking football for Fox at the Super Bowl in February and, oh yeah, there’s that “American Idol” thing. And at 32, he’s already received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Here’s a typical day in the life of Seacrest when “American Idol” is taping its live show.
“I get up a little after 4 a.m., get to the KIIS studio at 5 and during the commercial break at 8 a.m.," he says. “I tape the ‘E! News’ promos. At 9:58 I walk across the hall and do voiceovers for E! From there I go to a meeting about what will be on the news and then tape the news at lunchtime. Sometime after that I drive to the set of ‘Idol,’ do a walk-through and then the show goes live at 5 or 6.”
For most folks, hosting the Emmys would seem awfully intimidating. Performing live in front of a huge jaded industry audience and millions at home might frighten the most seasoned pro, but the job doesn’t seem to faze Seacrest. He’s even brave enough to contemplate participating in a musical number to open the show. Wonder how Simon would judge that?
The majority of Emmy emcees have been either standup comedians or talk-show hosts, including Conan O’Brien, Garry Shandling and Ellen DeGeneres. Their jobs rarely are praised when done well, but often the hosts are chided when executed poorly. The reason many turn it down is because, for the most part, it’s a no-win situation.
But Seacrest, who’s neither a comedian nor talk show host, doesn’t seemed intimidated in the least. He knows there will be laughs delivered from onstage to ease the tension. Just not necessarily from him.
“There will be plenty of comedy — we’ve got guys like Jon Stewart and Lewis Black (performing comedy routines)," Seacrest says. “Yeah, there will be laughs in those three hours but I’m not a comedian and won’t try to be a late-night host. I‘m not a standup and I don‘t write monologues or jokes,” Seacrest said. “I’m not nervous. At least I don’t think so … but maybe I should be.”
Kid who wasn't asked to the dance
Seacrest’s success hasn’t come without hard work. He grew up in Atlanta and got his first radio job at age 16, quickly moving up the ranks and bringing top ratings to the station while studying journalism at the University of Georgia. He then moved to L.A., where the new opportunities started coming … and coming. And Seacrest, like actors who often feel their next job will be there last, kept getting busier and busier.
“I was the kid that wasn’t always asked to go to the dance,” Seacrest admits. “When I was much younger, I was picked on a bit and have a fear of failing and of things not working out. I try to strategically pick the jobs that I can do best.”
Certainly, the popularity of “American Idol” is a combination of many things — the show's format, the chance to see a singer rise to stardom, the mouthy judges — but Seacrest’s contributions are just as vital. Those who see him as nothing more as a faceless conduit between acts would be dead wrong.
He puts the contestants at ease, banters with the judges, keeps the show moving on time, and has perfected the art of not seeming like the center of attention when, in fact, he often is. Although the next season of the reality juggernaut won’t hit the air until January, Seacrest is currently hitting the “Idol” audition cities and is already knee-deep in planning for season seven.
“We’ve have seen massive amounts of people,” he said. “In Philadelphia, there were 20,000, plenty of whom shouldn’t have shown up to audition.”
Even six years in, the host still tries to improve on his weekly performance.
“I am critical,” he admitted. “I sometimes watch ("American Idol" episodes) back. When you’re doing a live show, it’s all about what’s captured in the frame. The key to that big show is getting the hell out of the way.”
At Sunday’s Emmys, there’ll be little chance of that. He’ll often be the center attraction up on stage, with nary a Simon or a Sanjaya to share the spotlight.
Have no worries for Seacrest, though. He’s handled this type of mega-event before with panache. Just don’t expect him to dawdle after the show is over and schmooze with the winners.
He’s got a few other things to do.
Stuart Levine is an assistant managing editor at Variety. He can be reached at stuart.Levine@variety.com.