He didn't make it to Kelly Ripa's hot seat, but Robert Jerome Lacovara Jr. can always claim he was number one — in line, that is. The film student from Manhattan's Hunter College was first to compete in Live With Regis and Kelly's American Co-Host Search last Thursday. The winner will sit next to Reege on April 16, filling in for Ripa, who's currently on maternity leave with her third child.

"I've tried out for Survivor three times, and for American Idol, you have to be under 25 and sing," says the 34-year-old Lacovara, who's also an ex-model. He braved the night's elements, staking his spot outside the Live studio nearly 14 hours before auditions commenced, even though rumors had circulated that producers would favor female competitors. "It shouldn't be about that," he stresses. "It should just be about who's right for the part. If you have the personality and people notice that, you should be the co-host. As soon as they see me, they're going to know... I'm a people person, I'm charismatic, and I'm ready to go."

Lacovara almost didn't get his foot in Reege's door. "They said, 'You're not the type we're looking for,'" he explains. "I told them I refused to take that as an answer." A fan favorite with ABC security guards and other hopefuls in line, he used his instant entourage to his advantage. "They asked why I should move on, and I said to look around. People were waving and screaming, 'Robert, you're number one!' — and I went on to the next round."

Relying on his quick wit, Lacovara breezed through stage two. "They asked where I'd take Denzel Washington for a segment, and I said, 'Waikiki; I want to see Denzel on a surfboard!'" But the frequent night clubber lost his dance card when he came face to face with Live's dreaded executive producer, Michael Gelman. "Gelman said he was so enthused with me, then he felt I got nervous." It was the last thing this go-getter wanted to hear. "When he hesitated, I told him, 'Say yes, Gelman, say yes and believe it.' But he said no," Lacovara chuckles, "and it was such a Hollywood no."