Ryan Seacrest will return as host of ABC’s “American Idol” reboot this January, leaving just one question: What took this so long? (Or maybe two: Why Seacrest?)
Almost from the minute it was announced in early spring, the Seacrest-as-host move was in fact expected . . . and expected. Finally, Thursday morning this:
“It’s genuinely hard to put into words what ‘American Idol’ means to me,” said Seacrest in a statement via ABC. “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.” He also confirmed the news on this morning’s edition of “Live with Kelly and Ryan” and said he will remain as “Live” co-host, essentially with the help of the red eye. If “Idol” does air Sunday nights this winter, he’ll host those live editions, then return the following morning to New York for “Live” and his radio show. Contestants are expected to appear on “Live” as well.
In another statement, ABC Entertainment chief Channing Dungey said, “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.”
Through it all indeed: After sharing a brief co-hosting run with Seacrest that earned him an enduring asterisk in TV history, Brian Dunkleman exited the show in 2002, leaving a solo Ryan, who alone captured — either breathlessly or ironically — the headlong rush of hype that propelled “Idol” for 15 years. With the exception of Simon Cowell, Seacrest also came to represent “Idol” more than any other figure, and — even more than Cowell — its durability. In the early culture-busting years, Seacrest’s voice was the first viewers would hear, and the last. In the waning years, he was still there — still enthusiastic, still a true believer, and one of the last of those. A Fox “Idol” without him was inconceivable, and as a result, an ABC “Idol” without him seemed — at the very least — half-formed or half-built.
He was certainly expected back. A reasonable question: Should he come back?
“Idol” long ago lost its cache with young viewers whose consumption of music now has nothing to do with TV popularity contests. Indeed, their consumption of music has nothing to do with TV at all. By reappointing Seacrest, ABC is effectively conceding the fight for their attention. Young viewers won’t be coming back, so the network may as well stay with a smoothly professional host who understands the mechanics better than anyone else.
He’s a safe, sane choice, but he’s hardly an adventurous one. An ABC “Idol” with Seacrest does clearly indicate the new network has little inclination to remodel this reboot. As good a host as Seacrest is, he still represents the middle-country and middlebrow tastes that “Idol” was always about musically. Never adventurous and hilariously removed from the most important movement since the birth of rock and roll — hip-hop — ABC’s viewers can now be assured of the same host, and the same cover of Heart’s “Alone” and Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.”
Why did this take so long? Always remember that second word in the phrase “show business.” The Hollywood Reporter analysis of this move says Seacrest was ready to join three months ago when Katy Perry was hired — for a reported $25 million fee, far and away the highest salary for an “Idol” judge. The number forced ABC and producer Fremantle Media to recalibrate — or lower — the offer to Seacrest. He bucked, and a waiting game followed. Per THR, he’s now getting $10 million, in line with his old “Idol” salary.