Ryan Seacrest’s Journey Back to American Idol: A Year of Questions Ending With New and Old Gigs
Who says you can’t go home again? Ryan Seacrest will return to American Idol, once again hosting the reality singing competition. American Idol will return to life after just a year off the air, this time airing on ABC. Fox’s version ran for 15 seasons from 2002-2016.
Seacrest’s return to American Idol was a long time coming, despite Idol’s short time off the air. It all started when Seacrest did his signature sign off during the American Idol series finale.
"And one more time—this is so tough—we say to you from Hollywood, goodnight America," he said. "For now."
"I didn’t want to say goodbye last night. Thank you for 15 amazing seasons #IdolFinale," Seacrest tweeted after the April 2016 finale.
That should’ve been the first clue that American Idol wasn’t about to go quietly into the night.
"Idol was still firing on cylinders, even if it wasn’t all of the cylinders of its heyday, and it still had a fan base," Seacrest told The Hollywood Reporter. "So, part of me, while not having had any real conversations about it, believed that somehow, somewhere, American Idol would come back."
But for all Seacrest knew, Idol was done. So, he looked to the future. He had meetings with Hollywood heavyweights, including iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman, Peter Chernin and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
"But unlike most people, Ryan has this huge audience who listens to him every day on the radio—it’s bigger than his audience for Idol—so people aren’t forgetting about him, he isn’t going away. So, I said to him, ‘Take your time and wait until the right thing shows up for you; don’t try to take something that somebody wants you to do for them,’" Pittman told THR.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick, Jr., Ryan Seacrest, American Idol
Some of the offers he reportedly toyed with included another reality show, a daytime talk show and an NBC news show. "I don’t act, and I don’t sing, and I don’t do a lot of other things," he told THR. "So the question became: What will people accept me doing next?"
And then Live came calling and everything was in motion by the end of 2016.
While all that was happening, American Idol producers Freemantle made it clear they wanted to continue the show after its farewell season on Fox. Rumors swirled it could air on another network, including NBC. Even CBS took a look at it.
"It’s obviously a tough one for us. We love American Idol…Yes, it feels bad knowing its coming back on another network," Fox’s Dana Walden said during a recent press call. "It felt to us, sitting in those initial meetings, that it would be extremely fraudulent to bring the show back that quickly…that our fans would not appreciate being told one thing and then bringing it back right away."
Walden noted Fox had been marketing the farewell season, which saw ratings go up, but that it felt wrong to bring it back so soon. What’s more, Freemantle resisted trims to make the show more manageable in terms of cost, Walden said, and was determined to keep everything the same, including the panel of Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. in tact.
But Freemantle persisted and rumors swirled, ultimately landing at ABC—but not before Seacrest was already there. In April 2017, Seacrest reupped his deal with E! for Live From the Red Carpet and then just a few weeks later he officially joined the Disney|ABC family when he signed on to host Live With Kelly and Ryan alongside Kelly Ripa.
Disney/ABC Home Entertainment and TV Distribution/Pawel Kaminski
Ripa and Seacrest had discussed hosting together a decade ago, she said. "You were so ensconced with your other jobs and living in LA," Ripa told press after Seacrest’s first show on May 1. "We’ve always enjoyed working together. That’s never been a question. It’s just been being on the same coast at the same time."
Seacrest and Ripa hosted Live’s post-Oscars show in February 2017 and the plans to have him be her permanent cohost were already in the works then. "She came over the night before the Academy Awards and we knew that we were on the path to completing it, but we weren’t quite sure we’d get there," Seacrest revealed.
They got there. And then on his second week on the job, he addressed the American Idol revival rumblings head on. "This was news to me last week," he admitted and said he made calls to find out what was going up. Of course Ripa asked if he’d return to host.
"I don’t know about that part yet, we haven’t gotten that far," Seacrest said, noting the show moving from Fox to ABC could make the process much easier. "I said, ‘Well, that’s kind of good to know, I work here!’"
"I don’t know if I can host it," Seacrest hedged on May 8. "Do you know the preparation I have to do for [Live] every night?"
Ripa has always been vocal about her desire to see Seacrest return to the franchise and supportive of his decisions.
"I know that you’re busy in the mornings, I get it. I understand its hard doing double duty—you’ve got the radio show, you’ve got this. But your nights are free you don’t have that much to do. You can do this!" Ripa said in early May. "You can disconnect for that! On the days where it is the day after, you won’t even have to think, I will do it all!"
Better get thinking, Kel. However, Seacrest’s return wasn’t that easy.
Just a day after Seacrest and Ripa discussed Idol’s potential revival, it was made official by ABC.
"American Idol on ABC…that has a nice ring to it," Ben Sherwood, co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney|ABC, said in a statement. "Idol is an entertainment icon, and now it will air where it belongs, in ABC’s lineup of addictive fan favorites alongside Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor. America, get ready for the return of a bigger, bolder and better-than-ever Idol."
Of course all eyes then turned to the judging panel and host. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Seacrest almost immediately had an offer to return as host. THR reports Seacrest had meetings about how to modernize the series and was even instrumental in getting Katy Perry to sign on as the anchor judge for the new version. Seacrest’s deal was supposed to be in place for ABC’s Upfront presentation in mid-May. It wasn’t. In fact, the whole thing nearly fell apart in June.
"I’ve always loved the show," Seacrest told THR. "And if I could do it forever, I would do it forever…Who am I if not the American Idol guy?"
Brian Dunkleman, Kelly Clarkson, Ryan Seacrest, American Idol
He doesn’t have to wonder that question any longer. Despite reported setbacks involving salary and duties, a deal finally came together and Seacrest and Ripa announced the news on the Thursday, July 20 show of Live With Kelly and Ryan. In a release, ABC said Seacrest will "help reinvigorate the series that pioneered a new genre of television, staying true to the heart of the show by sharing inspiring stories and turning dreams into reality."
"It’s genuinely hard to put into words what American Idol means to me," Seacrest said in a statement. "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. I believe ABC is the perfect home for Idol, and I’ve every confidence the show’s legions of fans will love it—especially Idol’s best traditions of showcasing heartwarming stories, remarkable talent discovery, and, best of all, making dreams come true."