Regis Philbin and Simon Cowell, <EM>America's Got Talent</EM> Regis Philbin and Simon Cowell, America's Got Talent

Somewhere along the line, miraculous multitasker Kelly Ripa must have inspired cohost Regis Philbin to return to his own juggling act. Just as he did when he launched the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire phenomenon, Philbin will balance his morning Live with Regis & Kelly act with a prime-time reality show, America's Got Talent (premiering Wednesday at 9 pm/ET on Fox). Simon Cowell's brainchild will feature all kinds of contestants with all kinds of "talents" from singing to magic to stripping who will perform in front of judges and compete for our votes to win $1 million. And in the middle of it all will be Philbin, the Ryan Seacrest of this bizarre twist on American Idol.

Philbin admits that working on Talent isn't quite as easy as his day job. "My morning show is really a joy because we get on and get off and it's all done in the hour, and I've done it for so many years that it's become almost second nature to me," he explains. "Simon warned me at the beginning of [Talent] that the audition process was going to be long and arduous for everybody because it just takes time to set up the judges, bring out the talent, let them do the best they can, and then get the reaction from the judges.... It takes 10 to 12 hours to get the first one-hour audition episode set."

His schedule will ease up once the show moves into its live rounds later in the season. In the meantime he's still thrilled by the chance to see the bizarre range of contestants who make it to the stage. "I think everybody thinks they have some kind of talent. It depends how strong your ego is. [Such as] the fellow who came out and we couldn't figure out what his talent was until he started stripping. He was 70," Philbin recalls. "Another guy has the ability to balance a 300-pound oven on his face, holding it up in the air and then cooking three eggs on it."

As it turns out, this was just the kind of variety show Philbin was looking for. "I had thought about [doing a variety show] for a long time," Philbin says. "The old variety shows I loved them as a kid, watching the Ed Sullivan Show, and later Dean Martin had the best variety show in the last 30 years. But I didn't know how to do it [myself]."

So when he got word that Cowell was looking for a host, Philbin took it upon himself to call the producers. "I thought I was being celebrity punked!" Cowell says of hearing the news. "We never in a million years dreamt we would get someone like Regis to do a show like this. It was the quickest and easiest decision."

The two showbiz heavies seem to have formed a mutual admiration society. "Simon is a master showman, and I think he has the Midas touch right now," Philbin gushes.

And when asked to compare Philbin to Seacrest, Cowell's Idol nemesis, the British meanie declares: "Regis is better looking. He's less vain. He's better at ad-libbing. And he likes me."