When Ryan Seacrest opens the envelope at the end of the “American Idol” Season 21 finale on May 21, 2023, the name inside won’t be a surprise to him. During a reunion with Kelly Ripa on the TV morning show they co-hosted until his departure in April, Seacrest admitted that he knows who the “Idol” winner is before almost everyone else.
For the Season 21 finale on Sunday, the name inside the card will either be Iam Tongi, Megan Danielle, or Colin Stough.
Seacrest, who’s been with the talent show since its launch in 2002, also said he’s been with the series for so long that he has a knack for knowing which contestants will make it to the top. Here’s what you need to know:
Ryan Seacrest Says He & ‘American Idol’ Judges Usually Know Who Will Be in Top 5
On May 18, Seacrest returned to New York for his first visit to his old show, renamed “Live With Kelly and Mark” since Ripa’s husband Mark Consuelos replaced Seacrest following his decision to leave the daily show after six years. Their conversation included Ripa asking about the “American Idol” season finale to air on Sunday, May 21, and when Seacrest will actually know who’s won the competition.
Since votes are cast by viewers live during the three-hour show and tabulated during the last commercial break, he said he finds out just before going back on-air for the final segment.
“I find out in the last commercial break,” he said. “I get the card, because it is a live vote, it’s done in real time. The last commercial break is about four minutes long and with 35, 45 seconds (left), the card comes in after a final check and I do take a glance.”
“I make sure I can read the writing of the producer who wrote it,” Seacrest added, referencing Megan Michaels Wolflick, who became the executive producer and showrunner in 2021, according to Deadline. “Generally it’s in pencil and I don’t know, my eyes are getting worse with every year. So could you — Megan, if you’re watching, could you use some pen?”
When Consuelos asked Seacrest how often he guesses correctly who the winner will be, Seacrest replied, “Not all the time because the vote can be interesting.”
But after six years of working together on the show, he said he and celebrity judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie have grown to be very good at predicting which contestants will make it to the Top 5.
“You know, the judges and I talk about this throughout the season,” he said. “I think we’re pretty right about who we think will be in the Top 5. We kind of know early on who’s going to make that final cut.”
Seacrest added that online auditions are already underway for Season 22, now that “Idol” has been officially renewed by ABC. The network typically announces during the summer whether Seacrest and the hosts are returning for the next season.
Ryan Seacrest Says His Path Would Have Been Very Different Without ‘American Idol’
During a special episode that ABC aired on May 15 called “American Idol: Road to the Finale,” Seacrest reflected on getting to host the show since its start in 2022, back when he co-hosted for one year with Brian Dunkleman, and how it impacted the course of his career.
“I have such wonderful, fond memories of beginning, starting on this show before people even knew what it was,” he said. “Without being the host of ‘American Idol,’ this would not have been the same career path for me. It really opened so many doors in a way that I could have never imagined.”
In addition to hosting from the stage during the performance episodes, Seacrest is on-hand for most of the auditions, talking with contestants before they sing in front of the judges.
“I think my role on the auditions, before a contestant comes into the room, is to try and put them at ease, to allow them to feel comfortable,” he said, and admitted that sometimes he gets so invested in their stories and dreams that he gets teary-eyed.
“I love to see the hope in the eyes of families and parents and of the contestants, and then pursue and bring to fruition a dream that they’ve always had,” he explained. “That’s what makes it special to me. I can get emotional — that’s the authenticity and the genuine heart of ‘American Idol.’ It strikes me and it strikes people across the country.”
The Season 21 finale of “American Idol” airs live on May 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern, with voting open for the full three-hour show.