Ryan Seacrest

The permatanned host is anything but idle.

Illustration: Rob Kelly

American Idol changed the nation's idea of must-see TV (is there anything on television anymore that doesn't involve celebrity judges, contests and viewer voting?), and it made Ryan Seacrest, its hunky, spiky-haired host, a bona fide star. As it turns out, Seacrest does a lot more than taunt mean-mouthed Simon Cowell and console cast-off singers. The 32-year-old hosts a popular L.A. morning radio show on KIIS-FM, and he's nabbed a three-year, $21 million contract (cha-ching!) with the E!

American Idol changed the nation's idea of must-see TV (is there anything on television anymore that doesn't involve celebrity judges, contests and viewer voting?), and it made Ryan Seacrest, its hunky, spiky-haired host, a bona fide star. As it turns out, Seacrest does a lot more than taunt mean-mouthed Simon Cowell and console cast-off singers. The 32-year-old hosts a popular L.A. morning radio show on KIIS-FM, and he's nabbed a three-year, $21 million contract (cha-ching!) with the E! cable network to "develop, produce and host a variety of programs" (including all of its red-carpet extravaganzas). And, as of last year, he cohosts New Year's Rockin' Eve on ABC with the venerable Dick Clark. Seacrest took a breather from his crowded schedule to talk to TONY via cell phone from California as he drove from E! to ABC on a recent afternoon. "I prefer the freedom of driving myself," he sighs.  "It's my only time alone."

So what's on tap for the big ball drop this year?

Well, last year was the first time in the history of Dick's show that we put on a live performance in Times Square [Mariah Carey]. This year we have Christina Aguilera, Rascal Flatts and the stars of Jersey Boys.

Had you ever done the Times Square--masses thing before Rockin' Eve?

No. It was on my life to-do list. This is definitely the best way to do it.

Why? Is the energy insane?

It's electric. It's almost an out-of-body experience at midnight—the confetti dropping, the noisemakers and everyone just screaming. You almost forget you're on national television. You don't talk. You let it breathe; at midnight you let the sounds and images speak for themselves.

How would you celebrate the New Year if you weren't on television?

I'd have a nice long dinner, watch the ball drop and then sing cheesy music out loud on the dance floor. I can't sing or dance. I would have failed the audition to be in 'N Sync, but I'm fine singing on top of a track. My karaoke go-to song is "Bust a Move" by Young MC.

What are you going to wear?

A YSL black tuxedo. The biggest issue is trying to stay warm. The show is three hours.

Is there room for a flask in that YSL suit? Do you drink on air?

I had my first glass of champagne when I got off the air last year.

No! How come you never run out of banter?

I'm not saying that I don't! But there are always a lot of acts coming through, and the evening is constantly changing and evolving. Then I have the facts and history about the night to go to. Mainly it's play-by-play.

Do you come here often? New York, I mean.

Six or seven times a year. I love the restaurants. Mario Batali's places. I've been to Daniel. I go to that place with the peanut butter, I've stood in line for cupcakes. If I'm in New York for too long, I retain water—I overeat. When I'm here I have no discipline. It stresses me out. I'm gaining an inch just talking about it.

Your birthday is December 24. I bet it sucks having it so close to the holidays and New Year's.

I'm accustomed to it. My parents were cool about wrapping presents in different paper for Christmas and for my birthday. They'd buy a present for the first day, and I'd get all the "parts sold separately" on the next day.

You interview a lot of losers on Idol. Do their tears ever make you uncomfortable?

I've become immune to it. Someone has to lose. Part of my job is to never tip them off, to maintain some suspense. I can find out, or not find out, before. At first I didn't want to know. Now I do—I'm like a little kid with a cookie jar. I'm sworn to massive secrecy, though.

You got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005. Were you surprised that people were so snarky about it?

Well, I'm happy if it provides a punch line for a late-night show. You should take a walk down there! There are people I haven't heard of. I'm not the least famous person there. There are some really random people, like Pee-wee Herman. You think, Who the hell is that? Actually, people are probably saying that about me right now.

Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve 2007 airs Sun 31 at 10pm on ABC.