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Ryan Gets Real

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Ryan Seacrest is head over heels. In fact, his new love—a fresh-faced, raven-haired beauty who’s totally into him too—moved into his Beverly Hills home five months ago. So what if Seacrest’s new roomie is a 40-lb. black Lab named Georgia? “It’s a big deal,” says Seacrest, relaxed and upbeat as he settles into a couch on his cliffside patio overlooking a pool and the sprawl of Los Angeles below. “I’ve never done this before!” The 39-year-old American Idol host says committing to a puppy “is me saying to myself, ‘You should have a little responsibility.’ … I’m turning 40, and it’s a turning-point number. You go, ‘Wait, you’ve got to grow up a little bit.'”

Not that Seacrest’s been slacking till now. As one of the busiest stars in show business, the Emmy winner has built a $400 million multimedia empire that includes Idol, a syndicated daily radio show, the weekly American Top 40 countdown, a production company, a charitable foundation and now a men’s clothing line for Macy’s (see box page 103). The only missing piece in his action-packed life is a family to share it with. “I look at what my mom and dad have had for 40-plus years—a fantastic relationship and great marriage,” says Seacrest, who split with actress Julianne Hough in 2013 and is currently dating model-trainer Shayna Taylor, 23. “Someday I’d like that. They’re my role models.”

His mom, for one, has little doubt her son will find it. “With this milestone birthday in December, I think he’s saying, ‘Is that all there is? I need to fulfill myself on a personal level,'” says Connie Seacrest, an Atlanta homemaker who works with husband Gary, a lawyer, and Seacrest’s younger sister Meredith at the Ryan Seacrest Foundation. “I’m happy he’s come to that point.” With “find balance” added to his brimming To Do list, Seacrest sat down with PEOPLE to talk about finding his way to the top—and what’s next.

Find your passion. When I was 10 or 11, I recognized how much I loved music. I couldn’t play anything beyond “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder, but I loved listening to disc jockeys on the radio. My dad always said, ‘A gift in life is discovering your passion.’ In high school I was the Voice of Dunwoody High and did the morning announcements. I was terrified of screwing up the Pledge of Allegiance! When I moved to Los Angeles [at age 19] I didn’t know a single person. I was intimidated but ambitious.

Relish, but limit, the nachos. I remember being a chubby kid and what that felt like. My mom would pack my lunch, and I’d beg her to pack an extra sandwich. I made nachos as my after-school snack, and I liked Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. When I look in the mirror, sometimes I still see that kid, so I’m hyper-obsessed with exercise. I have a home gym and keep clothes in a locker at two hotel gyms so I can duck in between meetings. I treat my workouts as one of my most important meetings of the day.

Find balance. I’m usually up at 5:30 a.m. When I sleep, I fit in dreams between tossing back and forth. The problem is I start to think of things, and I keep a little Post-It pad by my bed. Balance hasn’t always been a priority for me, but now it is. Until recently I felt I shouldn’t ever have a day off and felt guilty going on vacation. That was pressure I put on myself. I’ve gotten a little more relaxed as I approach 40.

You can’t plan love. Relationships are challenging. It’s tough for anybody when they’re pulled by work and they’ve got to devote time to a relationship. But it’s a challenge I think you can overcome at the right time in your life. As you grow up, you look at them through a more serious lens, and with each relationship you learn so much.

I am not lonely. I am surrounded by friends, family, the dog. I have a wine cellar, so I’ll have people over and we’ll taste wine. After the last Idol finale we did this great Mexican dinner. I had the judges over with their significant others. We had the best time. [As for settling down], I feel like in the next decade, something personally—some personal event [like marriage or kids]—should happen. That would be how it would be if I were to script it or map it out. But do you ever plan all of it?

+ TABLET BONUS! Ryan’s style tips and fave American Idol moments!