Ryan Seacrest

All of a sudden, Ryan Seacrest has Happy Feet. And once again, this new exuberance on stage — and his tendency to break into dance — has been inspired by this season's most physically uninhibited contestant, Nashville's Paul McDonald

On Wednesday night, McDonald rocked the Idol Dome with his version of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." "It was fun," said McDonald after the show. "I felt like I was in my band, playing my set." It was the last song of the night, and nobody — including Seacrest — wanted it to end. So Seacrest cued the band to pick the song up again, which set off the Top Nine as they danced on stage. Jacob Lusk locked arms with Casey Abrams and did a jig. McDonald twirled Lauren Alaina multiple times around the stage. 

But the biggest surprise was Seacrest, who seems to embody the new spirit of the show this season: lighter, more playful, and not at all opposed to executive producer Nigel Lythgoe's tendency toward throwing in the unexpected, such as letting a select gaggle of girls throng Scotty McCreery after singing the Elvis hit, "That's All Right." "The show is about the kids again," says director and So You Think You Can Dance judge Adam Shankman. 

And about a host who is no longer trying to one-up judge Simon Cowell, and seems to be having a blast. The first time Seacrest let loose was on March 9, the first week of competition for the Top 13. McDonald sang Ryan Adams' "Come Pick Me Up," and after he was done performing his strangely hypnotic gyrations on set, Seacrest asked, "What exactly are the steps to the Paul McDonald, if people want to do it at home?" McDonald replied, "You have to practice really hard."

Seacrest started practicing that minute and if Wednesday night was any indication, he hasn't stopped.

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