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Ryan Seacrest, American Idol

Ray Mickshaw/FOX

Five 5 (Countdown Numbers)

All this week, we're counting down the most-anticipated series of the new year and recommending what to watch and what highlights to expect from 2010's top TV. Coming in at No. 5 is TV's biggest reality competition:

American Idol (Fox)

Premieres Jan. 12, 8 p.m.
Starring: Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Ellen DeGeneres
Status: Returning for season nine

What's this season's big drama? We just checked in with Ryan Seacrest (who's also hosting tomorrow's New Year's Rockin' Eve), and he dished on the new Idol, Simon's possible exit and how the judges are playing musical chairs, in more ways than one...

I don't know if you heard, but Paula left.
I'm leaving! Paula left—yes, I have heard that.

Ellen is joining the show this year—have you spent a lot of time working with her yet?
I have spent a lot of personal time with Ellen, but not a lot of time working. She's a really good friend of mine. She and I are going to have dinner at her house the night of the premiere, because the auditions premiere Jan. 12—although she's not on that episode, because she starts about a month later. I think it's going to be fantastic to have her sharp wit next to the elderly wit of Simon.

There's talk that this is Simon's last season. Strictly hypothetically speaking, if this was his last year, do you see the show continuing successfully without him?
Well, I think what you're referring to is a big rumor, because he hasn't told me anything about leaving the show. But I think the show hopefully will go on for a long time, because I've got to be there for three more years. So hopefully it stays on the air.

We'll be there with you! You've only seen the auditions so far for season nine—do any personalities stick out for you yet?
We had really great auditions in both Boston and Atlanta. Every city had its fair share of talented singers, and then some pretty awful ones too, but Boston and Atlanta stand out to me.

Anything else you're changing up this year? Any drama besides the obvious judge situation?
Can you tell me the judges? It's Randy, Ellen, Kara, Simon, right? We just haven't figured out where we're going to seat everybody, to be honest with you. That was a phone call a couple of weeks ago, who's going to sit where, so that's the next big story to come.

Is that a drama?
Of course, of course! Who sits where? It's a big deal.

What is your suggestion?
My suggestion is whatever makes Simon most uncomfortable.

What percentage of that rivalry is genuine and what percentage is great TV?
It's genuine, but we laugh at it. We laugh at ourselves—we don't take ourselves too seriously, we have fun—but we are very competitive with each other.

Reporting by Jennifer Godwin


Check out our winter premiere-dates calendar to find out when your fave series return!