Ryan Seacrest Ryan Seacrest

Whether in a celebration at home with family and friends or a crowded club in the heart of the city, Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve (starting Sunday at 10 pm/ET, on ABC) has for the past 35 years been the No. 1 choice to usher in the next 365 days. No matter the sometimes deafening background noise, it's all about the biggest party in the country, says cohost Ryan Seacrest, who came on board last year as Clark, still recovering from a stroke, needed an extra voice to keep the bash bumpin'. Seacrest — who sometimes worries that he scares the 77-year-old Clark with his overzealous attitude — says working on the program is surreal, as the energy and enthusiasm of the night unfold. "It's electrifying to be in the center of Times Square," the American Idol host declares. "It's a luxury to work underneath where the ball drops."

With Grammy-nominated artists added to the list of 19 performances this year, the entertainment is sure not to disappoint. Stars like Christina Aguilera, Rascal Flatts, the cast from Broadway's Jersey Boys, Meat Loaf and Natasha Bedingfield, among others, will sing in the new year from the Big Apple, while the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie will oversee the Hollywood fete. With a packed program like this, it seems to be under control, but when TVGuide.com asked Seacrest if there would be any unscheduled surprises — like a visit from, say, hard-hitting Idol judge Simon Cowell — he said there will definitely be time for some unannounced happenings. "It's safe to say Simon won't show up because he can't stand to watch anything where he's not featured," says Seacrest. "[But] it's a live telecast that starts early, so I'm sure there will be things that surprise me." In fact, that's one of the things Seacrest enjoys about being a host — the spontaneity. "I can't remember scripts and lines, so I'm most comfortable in these situations that unfold beat by beat."

If you do want to see Simon, you'll have to wait until the Jan. 16, Season 6 premiere of Fox's American Idol, where you will see not only a "grumpier" Cowell, according to Seacrest, but also a more competitive contestant pool. "You will see some of the most aggressive contestants [this season]," he previews. "It's certainly an individual sport when it comes to auditioning." And true to Idol's nature, some of those individuals are talentless, misguided hopefuls. "In Seattle specifically, we got tired of a few of these contestants that were just from another planet," says Seacrest. "When we set out to audition this year, we thought, 'Well, what's going to be left?' But we were fulfilled. We saw plenty of naive talent, and plenty of good talent."

Seacrest already has a full plate — besides his radio shows On-Air with Ryan Seacrest and American Top 40, his gigs on E! News, the Live from the Red Carpet specials, and Idol, he is co-owner of eight restaurants and a clothing line (The R Line). He is also busy producing E!'s Paradise City, a Vegas-based half-hour reality series about twentysomethings trying to make it in the entertainment industry (debuting in 2007), plus he's working hard rooting for his famous friends, like Grammy-nominated John Mayer and Golden Globe-nominated Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), a previous Idol wannabe whom Seacrest remembers as a powerhouse. And if that weren't enough, he's working on a new music-industry-related project that is too secret to divulge just yet, but which he hopes to announce in the beginning of the new year.

But before he can do that, he'll be counting down the end of 2006 with the other million people in Times Square and all the viewers at home anxiously awaiting a fresh start. According to Seacrest, no plans for him to fully take over Rockin' Eve have been discussed, so while he tries to snag a midnight kiss from Xtina and figure out a resolution for '07, he'll be enjoying sharing the biggest celebration with the one who's been partying harder than any host in the business. 2006... out.

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