How 'American Idol' Changed Ryan Seacrest's Life: 'I Was Living in a One-Bedroom Apartment and Splitting the Rent with Another Dude'

The series finale of American Idol airs Thursday (at 8 p.m. ET) on Fox

Photo: Sam Comen

A lot has changed for Ryan Seacrest since he first became host of American Idol in 2002.

"I can't even begin to compare my life then and now," the reality TV host says in the current issue of PEOPLE. "I mean, when this all started, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment and splitting the rent with another dude."

In fact, Seacrest hadn't even hosted any sort of live program before Idol.

"I was just going out there and trying my best," says Seacrest, who co-hosted the first season with Brian Dunkleman before flying solo the next 14 years. "It took a few seasons before I embraced the fact that it was a big live show and things were not always going to be perfect. I got more comfortable every year."

Aside from Seacrest as host, a lot has changed over Idol's 15 seasons – including the judges panel – but Seacrest most fondly recalls the magic of the first seven seasons with Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.

* For more on Idol, pick up PEOPLE's The Best of American Idol collector's edition issue, on sale now.

"We had such a good, tight and close relationship," says Seacrest. "We'd say to each other, 'Don't bring up what we were just talking about backstage because it's personal.' But that's exactly what Simon would do, and we'd have a laugh about it. It made the show so much more fun for us."

Though Seacrest will say, "Goodnight, America" one last time on Thursday when the fifteenth (and final) Idol is crowned, the host says fans have not seen the last of him on TV.

* For more from Seacrest – including how he spent his last days on the Idol set – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

"I love doing big event television like New Year's Rockin' Eve. I'm headed to Rio this summer to do the late-night hour of Olympics coverage for NBC. I love doing live TV. But I don't think I'll there will ever be a show like Idol again."

The performance finale of American Idol will air Wednesday and the star-studded results finale will air Thursday (both at 8 p.m. ET) on Fox.

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