It's been hard not to notice that Ryan Seacrest has been acting a bit strangely on "American Idol" this season. From his aggressive grilling of lead judge Simon Cowell to his new penchant for making up pet nicknames for contestants and judges ("SiCo"?), the normally genial Seacrest has raised some eyebrows this year with quirky behavior. This week's shows brought those quirks into sharp focus via some wild air-guitar playing; an out-of-the-blue slam of season-one co-host Brian Dunkleman; a strange, self-deprecating on-air chat with his mother and the man-on-man slow dance during Tim Urban's performance. So, what's up with Ryan?
The Los Angeles Times cornered the multitasking radio/TV personality and reality-show producer to ask him about the incidents, his recent exceedingly high energy on the show and how he's feeling about Simon Cowell's impending departure.
Asked about the man dance with someone he ID'd as season-eight "Idol" finalist roughneck Michael Sarver (even though it was clearly not Sarver), Seacrest said he was just having some fun. "I was enjoying it," he said. "We've done this show for nine years. When they take me out into the audience, sometimes the energy out there takes me to a different place. I looked at the people and I was just having fun Tuesday night. That guy looked like the most inappropriate person to dance with, so I figured, 'Let's pick him up and just dance with him for a second.' "
Because he's shuttled all around the studio while introducing the contestants, Seacrest said that sometimes he gets trapped in a location and he tries to make the most of it. "I can't actually get out of the location to get back to the side of the stage," he said. "So sometimes I'll do something like that to get past it. But that night, I was just enjoying it and having a good time. My mom was there in the audience, I was in a good mood!"
Eagle eyed "Idol" watcher MJ Santilli, who runs MJsBigBlog.com, told MTV News that Seacrest's behavior has concerned her and been a distraction to the show. "Ryan's behavior is disturbing me," she said. "I think he may be taking a note from the producers to spice things up a little too far. Edginess is one thing, but Ryan has stepped over the line to insanity. Ryan has always played the sane and sober lynchpin of the show. And while he could be juvenile, he was never mean spirited or crazy. I want the old Ryan back."
The Times brought up the fact that some contestants said Seacrest seemed tired during dress rehearsal, but then seemed to get his second wind on-air Tuesday night, when he opened the show with a double-entendre-heavy interview with mentor Adam Lambert. The host said the unscripted moments are just his way of playfully amping up the proceedings for the live show at the end of one of his typically long, exhausting days of doing a morning radio show and an afternoon/evening "Idol" taping.
"I had fun during the dress rehearsal too," he explained. "It's one of those things where the contestants change every year, and we're here every year, and every now and then, you throw in an unconventional intro or outro just to make it different. Some people might think it's funny, other people might not. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. It's live and you're at bat, and you're just swinging as many times as you can. ... But there is no script. The conversation with Adam Lambert? Unscripted. I rehearse only the camera blockings so I know which cameras we're going to use, but we certainly don't rehearse any of the antics or any of the craziness that goes on." He also chalked the Dunkle-slam up to some unscripted, spontaneous fun.
There were some other explanations offered by Entertainment Weekly about Seacrest's antics that could be summed up in one word: caffeine. In an interview after the show, Urban said that the impromptu dance during his performance threw him off when he heard people laughing about it.
"It was a little weird, because people laughed at [Ryan] dancing in the middle of the song, so I had to zone it out," Urban said. "I could kind of catch it in the corner of my eye that he was dancing. I just tried not to think about it."
Then again, apparently Seacrest danced during rehearsal as well, so perhaps Urban shouldn't have been so surprised. "What he just did on [the live show] was nothing," Urban said. "Dress rehearsal was nuts. We were in the back going, 'All right?' We did not know what was happening." That prompted Crystal Bowersox to chime in about rehearsals as well, saying, "We were worried about Ryan a little ... He was kooky, in a sweet Ryan kind of way."
Before her ouster, teen Katie Stevens got to the bottom of the situation. "I asked him, after dress rehearsal, 'Ryan, what is up with you?' " Stevens said. "And he goes, 'You know, I'm really, really tired right now, so I'm trying to fool myself into thinking that I'm awake.' [He was] over-caffeinated."
With his increased presence around the judges' table, where he has clashed with Cowell on occasion and pressed the rest of the panel for explanations of their critiques more than in the past, the Times wondered if Seacrest was interested in changing jobs.
"I do not want to be a judge," he answered unequivocally. "I actually like being the master of ceremonies. I like being the host. I like being on the side of the contestants. I like getting to know the contestants." That said, Seacrest explained that he's spent enough time onstage with contestants to know when a critique has confused them, which is why he's been doing more follow-up questioning of the judges this year.
"The intent is never to press the judges' buttons," he said. "I've stood next to those kids for nine years. I can kind of sense body language when they have heard a critique where they're not quite sure what it means, or that critique might be something that's antithetical to the critique they heard three weeks ago, or two weeks ago, or a week ago! So the idea behind that is to try get a little bit of clarity."
And despite their sometimes tense on-air exchanges, Seacrest said he and Cowell are friendly both on and off set and that they've never gone to commercial break upset with one another. In fact, he described Cowell leaving next year as being like "losing my oxygen. I don't know what it will be like without him next year."
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