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RYAN'S HOPE CAN SEACREST PARLAY `IDOL' MOMENTUM INTO AN ENTERTAINMENT EMPIRE?

Byline: Fred Shuster Staff Writer

World domination? Why should Ryan Seacrest limit himself?

In reality, the host of TV's red-hot ``American Idol'' isn't so stuck up that he's rubbing his hands together with an evil cackle, imagining his face beaming down from satellites across the universe - that would be his ``Idol'' nemesis Simon Cowell.

Like a show-biz trouper twice his age, Seacrest is thinking ahead to a long career, perhaps away from the cameras.

A few mornings ago, the rail-thin TV and radio personality settled on a couch in the corner of a Beverly Hills hotel's empty bar area and ordered coffee, black. Unshaven, wearing a black shirt and jeans, hair brown with perfect blond highlights, the 28-year-old Seacrest was clear-eyed, cheerful and eager to discuss his good fortune and future plans.

Moments earlier, he handled requests for autographs with casual charm, asking female admirers for their full names so he could personalize their messages. Everyone in the joint knew who he was - and if they didn't place the face, they knew he was a somebody.

``The plan was always to somehow tie my TV and radio careers together,'' he said. ``You know, since I was 18, I've been doing radio and television everyday. Most people didn't have a chance to see my TV work before 'Idol' because I was on smaller shows, but I always had this plan of bringing the two mediums together in some sort of synergistic project. Fortunately, now that's all working out and next year it'll work out even more.''

Raised in Atlanta, where he landed his first radio job as a teenager, sizzling Seacrest spends his weekday afternoons away from TV as host and executive producer of Los Angeles' top-rated afternoon talk-music show, ``Ryan Seacrest for the Ride Home,'' on KYSR-FM (98.7) - Star 98. In addition to hosting ``American Idol'' and its summer spin-off, ``American Juniors,'' which wraps up its first season Tuesday on Fox, Seacrest is set to star in and executive produce a daytime talk and variety show produced by Fox syndicator Twentieth Television, beginning in January.

``He's got what it takes,'' says ``American Top 40'' kingpin Casey Kasem. ``There are people in this business who are as comfortable in front of the camera as they are behind it - Merv Griffin and Dick Clark come to mind. Ryan is a real pro and there's always room at the top for people who have the talent and energy.''

Misconceptions about show-biz successes like Seacrest include the illusion that fame descends overnight like an insect onto a leaf and that those in the spotlight enjoy an enormous amount of free time when the cameras are turned off. Along with the daily radio show, plus ``Idol'' preproduction meetings and ``Juniors'' episodes, Seacrest tapes short segments for Jay Leno, does cameos on various TV programs and handles fill-in work for radio stars Rick Dees and Kasem.

Rising at 5 a.m. for a workout before jumping into his Porsche to begin the day, Seacrest probably doesn't have time to pour a bowl of Cheerios let alone check out the comments in ``Idol'' chat rooms that discuss his taste in some seriously off-key shirts.

``On 'Idol,' I'm the traffic cop,'' he said. ``I'm the mouthpiece. It's not a show I created, although I'm thrilled to be part of it and am fortunate enough to host, and it's going to allow me to open those other doors where I don't have to be on a show I created, where I don't have to be hosting a show I produce.''

Using the Clark pop empire as a model, Seacrest hopes to create an entertainment brand that will be embraced by viewers of all ages. Last New Year's Eve, Seacrest hosted Fox's ``America's Party'' from Las Vegas, which went up against Clark's annual ``Rockin' Eve'' on ABC, and has a similar show this Dec. 31.

``Some people get star-struck by movie stars and supermodels,'' Seacrest said. ``I get star-struck by broadcasters, business people. I'm in awe of Dick Clark. He has created an incredible business for himself and his company. Merv Griffin, I'm in awe of what he's created. These are guys I look at and want to be like. They're not just talent, they have incredible business minds and they figured out ways to create synergy around their different projects to maximize what they're doing. Those are the people I really respect and admire.''

Seacrest has a hip look and personality that's cool enough for kids and mainstream enough for older folks, says pop-culture observer Fred Bronson, whose books include the new edition of ``Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits.''

Said Bronson: ``I can see why he'd look at Dick Clark and say, 'That's what I want to do.' Ryan is in the absolute right place at the right time to start building a real business for himself. He has a lot of Hollywood glamour and cool but there's something normal about the guy, too. He has a sense of humor about himself. People like him.''

To get the shot as host of ``Idol'' last year, Seacrest auditioned for top Fox executives who hired him on a Wednesday, two days before production started on the series. Nominated for five Emmy Awards and voted best program of the year by the Television Critics Association, the second season of ``American Idol'' drew 38 million viewers in May.

``Nobody imagined it would take off the way it did,'' Seacrest said. ``We kept saying, 'What if ... what if it becomes the next ``Survivor''? Can you imagine?' Then it became this pop-culture phenomenon.''

Many years before the magazine covers, Web sites and TV attention, Seacrest's entry into the biz almost became his exit. Interning at an Atlanta Top 40 station, the then-16-year-old Seacrest flipped on the microphone late one Sunday night when he wasn't supposed to.

``I figured no one would know if I cracked open the mic,'' he recalled. ``But I got called by the program director and was told to come in the next morning and get a talking-to. And fortunately he said, 'You shouldn't have done that, but it wasn't so bad. You took a risk, and I'm gonna help you.' So, it was by breaking the rules that I got a break.''

At 19, Seacrest moved to Los Angeles to host ``Gladiators 2000,'' a kids' version of ``American Gladiators.'' Star 98 was just going on the air with a new ``superstars of the '80s and '90s'' format (the station is now Hot Adult Contemporary).

``I missed being on the radio, so I went to Star and gave a tape to the program director and continued to call and call and call and finally got a call back and started doing weekend over-nights for $7 an hour,'' Seacrest said. ``From there, I worked my way in. I just always loved radio. As an 8-year-old, I used to pretend I was a DJ and tape myself counting down songs. I'd lock myself in the bedroom when the other kids were out playing army in the creek.''

January sees not only the start of ``Idol's'' third season but also the launch of Seacrest's live weekday TV show. He's also formulating ways to link his radio show to the TV program.

``It really doesn't happen overnight,'' Seacrest said. ``It was no accident I ended up with the opportunity to have a meeting to talk about 'Idol.' I've worked in radio and I hosted all kinds of TV shows that didn't have this kind of exposure. It's not just luck.

``People who make it in this business, for the most part, have drive, passion and a strategy.''

Fred Shuster, (818) 713-3676

fred.shuster(at)dailynews.com

AMERICAN JUNIORS

What: Host Ryan Seacrest hosts the first performance of the winners of a nationwide search to find the five best singers and dancers ages 6 to 13.

Where: KTTV (Channel 11).

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday.

In a nutshell: From the creators of ``American Idol.''

Judging the judges

Thrown together as near-strangers in the glare of the media, ``American Idol'' host Ryan Seacrest and the show's panel of judges have grown to appreciate each other. Here's Seacrest's take on his fellow ``Idol''- makers.

Simon Cowell: ``It took me a while to realize it, but Simon's actually very genuine. He's the same person on and off stage but, of course, not to the extent he is on the air. But it's all really him and we've gotten to the point where we can say anything to each other.''

Paula Abdul: ``She's a real sweetheart. She's constantly supportive of the contestants and encourages them when they're voted off. I can't even count the times I've left (the set) at night and Paula's outside on the steps with someone who's just lost and she's telling them not to give up, to keep their spirits up, it's not the end of the world.''

Randy Jackson: ``He's a real pro, a great guy who knows the ins and out of the industry and is always on top of the trends. Really nice guy.''

- F.S.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Sea change

Not content to be a mere TV and radio idol, Ryan Seacrest aims to be Gen Y's Dick Clark

(2) Ryan Seacrest

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

(3) Randy Jackson, left, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul all get high marks from Ryan Seacrest.

Box:

Judging the judges (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 17, 2003
Words:1572
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