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Ryan Seacrest: American Idol’s Biggest Success Story?

Does anyone remember that American Idol was initially co-hosted by two dorks named Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman?

Dunkleman departed the show after season one, saying later that he left because he thought the show treated the contestants “cruelly,” and he couldn’t deal with it. Dunkelman later admitted that was a mistake.

In the words of Julia Roberts in one of my favorite movies, Pretty Woman: “Big mistake. Huge.”

Who knows if Dunkleman had the ambition, insane workaholic drive and, yes, talent to do what Seacrest has done with his Idol opportunity, but I’m sure he would have liked the chance to give it a shot.

Seacrest, that other dork, has gone on to literally become a modern-day Dick Clark, one of Seacrest’s oft-stated goals. Besides his new $45 million American Idol contract, Seacrest is a veritable industry unto himself.

From 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., he hosts “On-Air with Ryan Seacrest,” a live morning radio program on L.A.’s KIIS-FM. That replaced Rick Dees’ famous morning show and is syndicated to 150 radio stations across the country. Prior to that, Seacrest hosted a similar show on sister station KYSR from 1993-2005. Now 34, Seacrest has had live, on-air radio jobs since he was just 15.

Either one of those gigs would be enough for a normal person, but that’s only the very beginning for Seacrest. In January 2006, he signed a three-year, $21 million deal with E! to host E! News as well as E!’s red carpet events.

That contract was extended through early 2012 last August, and includes a first-look deal with E! on any shows produced by his production company, Ryan Seacrest Productions. E!’s Denise Richards: It’s Complicated came out of that deal, as well as NBC’s short-lived summer series Momma’s Boys.

 Seacrest’s new American Idol deal also includes an opportunity for Seacrest to team with Simon Fuller and his 19 Entertainment banner on other products. Besides American Idol, Fuller and 19 are the forces behind both Idol and Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, which has grown into a bigger player in Fox’s fall schedule.

In 2005, Seacrest got a chance to step into his own idol’s shoes when he signed a deal to host Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve after Clark suffered a stroke. That deal has remained in place, with Seacrest appearing on-air with Clark as host and executive producer of Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with Ryan Seacrest.

Seacrest also managed to succeed another radio icon, Casey Kasem, when he took over syndicated radio show, American Top 40, in 2004.