Seacrest may have nabbed the role, but there was plenty of competition to get there
Longtime Live host Kelly Ripa introduced her new co-host to audiences on Monday morning, thanking both her viewers for their patience and the string of substitute co-hosts (including Carrie Ann Inaba, Common, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Hart and more) for stepping in.
Seacrest may have nabbed the gig, but it was a long road — one filled with endless guesses and rumors — to get there. Here, the names that got the most traction throughout the year-long search.
1. ANDERSON COOPER
“When Regis [Philbin] left, the person Ripa wanted more than anyone else was Anderson Cooper, but he was busy launching his own talk show,” a source told PEOPLE after Strahan announced his departure from Live. “Now that he’d be free, she would love it to be him.”
Cooper is already a seasoned journalist – he served as host for his own talk show from 2011 13 and continues to work on-air at CNN. The silver-haired star has already co-hosted with Ripa several times since Strahan left.
The Watch What Happens Live and Radio Andy host is really good friends with Ripa, which makes for a seamless dynamic off screen – and is the reason why Ripa considers Cohen to be a top contender.
A source previously told PEOPLE, however, that Ripa and Cohen are “such great friends in real life it might actually hurt the host chat element of things, where they each talk about what they did the night before or over the weekend, etc.”
Cohen is excited for his friend and her new co-host. He tweeted his congratulations to Seacrest just after the announcement was made.
3. FRED SAVAGE
Fred Savage’s show The Grinder got the boot, which freed him up for a co-hosting gig. During the interim host period, Savage joined Ripa on the air multiple times, with interviews including Emilia Clarke and Bachelorette JoJo Fletcher.
On his July 13 appearance, Ripa greeted him by saying “welcome home,” to which Savage replied, “I feel very comfortable now.”
Ripa is open to switching the gender of her show partner, and Andrews might just be the woman for the job.
Andrews, who has often stepped in for Ripa, has worked as a co-host on both ESPN and Dancing with the Stars, as well as serving as a correspondent for GMA.
Sources told PEOPLE in April that Late Night‘s Meyers and Groban, who have both served as guest co-hosts on Live previously, were two of the prominent names on a short list of stars who will rotate in and out of the vacant chair next to Ripa until a more permanent replacement signs on.
Both have already stopped by, with Groban taking the seat next to Ripa as recently as June 21, when Oprah Winfrey stopped by.
NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon expressed an interest, too.
Addressing reports that he’s at the top of the list for Strahan’s replacement, Gordon told the Associated Press: “I’ve always maintained a great friendship with the show and some of the producers within the show. I had a great time co-hosting on that show, and I certainly would welcome it.”
He added, “My priority is Fox and Fox Sports and NASCAR, so I will definitely be back in the booth next year. If there was something that would fit around that, great. I don’t know if that s a reality.”
Gordon has co-hosted the show with Ripa an impressive 9 times since she first joined Regis Philbin.
Alec Baldwin had the experience for the job – and said he’d love to do a show where he can stay home with his younger kids.
“I used to guest on that show with her and guest host with her,” Baldwin told Ellen DeGeneres last month. “People say that to me every now and then. Because I have always wanted to do a show where I can stay home.”
Mario Lopez also addressed rumors on The Ellen DeGeneres Show – and he seems a little tickled by the potential. “That’s very flattering,” the Extra host said with a laugh. “I know some people were saying that. Again, very flattering. I love Kelly. I’ve guest-hosted with her a few times. She’s awesome. … I’m looking forward to going back and guest-hosting.”
9. RICHARD CURTIS
Curtis, a high school teacher from Pennsylvania, won the Live with Kelly co-host search. But in the end this was no ordinary fan stunt: Ripa and Curtis ended up having amazing on-screen chemistry. Curtis was such a favorite that the show invited him back to co-host again, and rumors swirled that he could be the permanent pick.
10. JUSSIE SMOLLETT
The Empire star was one of Ripa’s first guest co-hosts, interviewing Andy Samberg on the show. He ended coming back for two more guest co-host spots.
11. JERRY O’CONNELL
After he stopped by the show for three days at a time, on multiple occasions, O’Connell seemed like a front-runner for the top spot. Plus, after his hosting gig on PEOPLE’s List, he was a hosting pro.
12. TONY GOLDWYN
Best known as President Grant on Scandal, Goldwyn charmed audiences while he and Ripa interviewed Late Night host Seth Meyers. At one point, there seemed to be talk that Goldwyn had nabbed the gig, despite his Scandal commitments, but sources denied this to PEOPLE.
13. MARK CONSUELOS
The first-ever husband-wife Live hosting team? Ripa’s husband of 21 years played co-host for a few days, as they had in the past, and, of course, had great chemistry.
THE PICK: RYAN SEACREST
Now, a seemingly obvious choice: he’s got plenty of hosting experience, and a years-long friendship with Ripa. During his first day on the job, he told Ripa he’s “So happy! So excited!” to be joining her on the Live stage. And judging by the applause and cheers, the audience is too.
Live with Kelly airs weekdays (check local listings).