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Ryan Seacrest, $60 Million Man: Most Trusted American Tastemaker, Or Milquetoast?

Stop The Presses!

Well, if this relationship with Julianne Hough goes anywhere, that's going to be one heck of a pre-nup.

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Ryan Seacrest is the $60 million dollar man, having just signed a three-year renewal with his radio sponsor, Clear Channel Communications. His expiring deal with the media conglomerate was worth a mere $35 million. That may seem like mad money to be paying someone whose principal (some would say only) talent is a gift for genial gab. But if Clear Channel had lost Seacrest, there would have been no nearest-runner-up for them to go after and build up. As the only game in town when it comes to pop hosting ubiquity, Seacrest can set his own price. And, apparently, he did.

Even allowing that there might be some common business sense in this deal, though, there's still been some risible hyperbole when it comes to justifying his rising price tag.

Robert Pittman, Clear Channel's chairman of media platforms, led the brigade of laughable statements. He told the New York Times that Seacrest "has emerged as somebody who you believe is searching through everything out there and telling you what is the very best about popular culture at that moment. He's trusted."

[Seacrest's love interest opens up]

In another statement, the Clear Channel boss ladled it on even more, calling Seacrest "a true visionary who has firmly established himself as America's leading curator of popular culture."

If you want to know what kind of "curation" Seacrest is providing as a service to America, and just how seriously he takes his reputation as a trusted tastemaker, the best place to look may be his Twitter account, where 3.6 million followers presumably follow every leading suggestion. Let's let Seacrest, the shaper and arbiter of pop culture as we know it, speak for himself:

* "Flo ridas new album out today! Hot songs"

* "Getting close to premiering @iamDiddy - Dirty Money's new video for 'Coming Home' on @ENews!!! 7/6c, LET'S GO!!!"

* "Just got the new T.I. and Christina Aguilera track 'Castle Walls' what u think??"

* "we just posted the new @JustinBieber song 'Pray' - u like??"

* "RT this if ur in line for Harry Potter right now" 

Who wouldn't pay $60M for that kind of guidance? Nothing but the "very best of popular culture" (as Pittman put it) gets past this gatekeeper!

Now, we do appreciate the certainty with which Seacrest endorses Flo Rida's new tracks. But some of these other tweets beg the question: If he's getting paid tens of millions of dollars a year to be "a true visionary" who selects what's best for us... and then he's asking us what we think of the new Christina and Bieber singles... shouldn't we be getting a cut?

Maybe the "visionary" part Pittman promises will factor in outside of what we hear on-air or read on Twitter. Additional responsibilities are being thrown at Seacrest in return for the additional dough. He's supposed to be getting his own record label, although it remains to be seen just how tricky it might be for a major radio company to own a label. Seacrest is also being charged with setting up additional avenues to expand Internet programming, though the Times said Seacrest "was vague when it came to the ideas he had about expanding Clear Channel's Web presence." In fairness, it's hard to be immediately visionary when you're not done counting all those zeroes yet.

In reality, absolutely no one except Pittman looks to Seacrest as a tastemaker or visionary. He is not a programmer, and has never shown any signs of having any particular aesthetics when it comes to what he does or doesn't like. In fact, there have rarely been any indication that there's anything he doesn't like, at all, unless it's Simon Cowell casting aspersions on his manhood. 

If anything, it's his lack of edginess that has made him an American media institution. Sure, he shows signs of an underlying sharpness, and in his exchanges with Cowell on Idol, there is the occasional suggestion that he might be capable of giving as good as he gets. But it's understood that he won't really go there, which is part of his appeal. In contrast not just to fellow radio behemoth Howard Stern but pretty much anyone else on the air, he's a remnant of a pre-snark era in broadcasting. Never has anyone been paid so much to emphasize his own milquetoast qualities.

The weird thing to remember about this $60 million deal is that it's for a part-time job. His Clear Channel radio (and web) responsibilities might officially count as full-time—plus overtime, by some standards—since he'll continue to host the American Top 40 countdown show, a national version of "On Air With Ryan Seacrest" thar airs on afternoons (and is about to bumped up to four hours from three), and a five-hour local morning show in L.A.

[Seacrest lands interview with Obama]

But there's no indication the new deal will take any time away from his self-employment as a producer of programs like Keeping Up with the Kardashians (speaking of "what is the very best about popular culture at this moment"), or from his American Idol hosting duties. That sounds like two additional full-time jobs right there that have nothing to do with radio or Clear Channel. He explained his ability to do all this by telling the Times: "Dude, I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off. (But) if you love something, then you make time for it."

And let's face it: Seacrest might have more time for all these other duties if Idol takes a turn for the worst in the post-Cowell era, as some are predicting. It's far too soon to sound a death knell for that show, but this deal certainly has the feel of a de facto Idol retirement plan.

Do you think Seacrest is worth the money Clear Channel is investing in him, given the lack of contenders for his pop radio throne? Is he the most trusted voice in popular culture? Or, as Seacrest himself would put it, if he were tweeting: "U like?" Weigh in on this weighty deal...

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