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Ryan Seacrest comes into his own

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RYAN Seacrest. AP

Time was when Ryan Seacrest was the pet butt of jokes of other TV hosts. They regarded him as a lightweight pretty boy who had little between his ears than his rapidly smiling face. He was the WASP version of Mario Lopez, who was similarly deemed too good-looking (with dimples, yet!) to be taken seriously.

Then, Ryan landed the emcee/host role on “American Idol,” and his critics had a field day poking fun at his agreeable but bland hosting style. Juror Simon Cowell, in particular, loved getting Ryan flustered with his snitty remarks.

Since Cowell wasn’t a looker, observers saw his sour and even rancid treatment of Seacrest as an obvious display of envy, pure and simple. Cowell even went as far as casting aspersions on Seacrest’s gender preference—an ironic move, since the British juror himself wasn’t deemed all that macho by some, what with his testily pursed and pusillanimous remarks, and all!

Well, look who’s laughing now: Some weeks ago, talk was rife that Matt Lauer, the longtime host of the “Today” show was thinking of doing something else—and it was bruited about that Ryan would replace him.

In fact, when Seacrest guested on the “Today” show recently, Lauer brought the “issue” out in the open, and of course Ryan pooh-poohed the rumor. True enough, Lauer eventually opted to stay in his cushy and top-earning job—but it was still a compliment to Seacrest that he, of all other TV talents out there, would be regarded as a top contender for Lauer’s post.

Even more recently, when Dick Clark passed away, it was again rumored that Ryan had been “in talks” to fill Clark’s ample shoes as host of a revival version of “American Bandstand.” First Lauer, and now Clark? Hmm, Seacrest is keeping (rumored) company with the best of them.

Truth to tell, however, he’s more than ready to fill anybody’s shoes. His TV and radio shows are hits, his “male model” kind of perfect good looks have been “humanized” by a maturing laugh line or two, and he’s learned to just do his winning, stellar thing without bothering to listen to the static thrown his way by envious critics.

On “American Idol,” for instance, he’s moved up in the estimation of his peer-judges —no longer the object of their teasing jests and jibes (bye-bye, Simon), but a partner and coequal in keeping things warmly personal on the often stressful competition.

That’s Ryan’s contribution to “Idol,” his ability to connect with contestants as people, to calm them down by being always on their side, and offering a shoulder to cry on when they get booted out, despite their best efforts to hang in there and slug it out.

The names and faces of the people around him may sometimes change, but at this stage of “American Idol,” Seacrest is its most constant and stabilizing factor.

The time has come in his surging stellar career, however, when he could soon be tapped for even bigger things, to host a show built around him. Those Lauer and Clark connections may not be all that speculative, after all. Oooh, that will get Simon Cowell’s goat! And the joke’s on him!


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