Eight years ago, Ryan Seacrest was the frosted-tipped co-host of "American Idol," sharing the stage with a comedian-turned-punchline named Brian Dunkleman. Eight seasons and a $45 million contract later, Seacrest has gone from sideshow act to ringmaster -- carrying the show for better or worse, depending on who you ask.
Seacrest, 35, raised eyebrows across America -- and prompted OMG's from the blogosphere -- with his bizarre behavior during last week's Elvis performance show, in which he told Adam Lambert, "My tongue's not as talented as yours," rudely waltzed with an audience member during Tim Urban's performance and jokingly announced Dunkleman would host this week's "Idol Gives Back" charity bonanza.
In the wake of those antics, which led Entertainment Weekly to declare that Seacrest had "lost his everloving mind," comes another blow to his squeaky-clean image. In a call to the "Big Ken and Coleen in the Morning" radio show in Des Moines, Iowa, ousted season-nine contestant Katelyn Epperley debunked an E! report hailing Seacrest as the "Superman" who convinced "Idol's" dreadlocked front-runner, Crystal Bowersox, not to quit the show because she missed her young son.
Epperley told the radio show that after she texted her friend Bowersox about her reported crisis, Bowersox responded with a text of her own, saying, "I'm fine…betrayed by Seacrest!"
Confirming a TMZ.com story, E! said last week that Seacrest counseled the single mom in the "Idol" parking lot because she felt homesick and struggled with the stress of the "Idol" juggernaut. According to E!, where Seacrest serves as on-air personality and managing editor, he "talked her down" with pearls of wisdom about fame and wealth.
"The greatest thing I ever did was make enough money so I could buy my mom a house," E! said Seacrest told Bowersox. "You can buy your mom a house."
As the radio hosts guffawed Monday, Epperley downplayed the drama.
"[Bowersox] apparently just had a moment backstage where she was just missing her kid... she really wanted to see her little boy and sometimes it really gets to her," Epperley said. "I think she probably just had a moment and they made it to be something that it wasn't...I bet Crystal's, like, shaking her head."
Bowersox ultimately stayed, saying on the "Idol" fan Facebook page: "We all have moments of doubt. As much as I miss my kid, the big picture is this: I'm doing this for him and my fans."
"Mama Sox" is likely to blow viewers away this week with an inspirational song of her choice, but whether or not Seacrest is a hero remains to be seen. Some seasoned "Idol" buffs say Seacrest's recent outlandish behavior is a sign he's making a play for the spotlight that outgoing judge Simon Cowell will leave behind.
"A lot of users on our site said they have noticed an ego battle between Simon and Ryan," TVGuide.com Senior Editor Adam Bryant told ABCNews.com. "Maybe Ryan's ego is getting the best of him and he's trying to be the center of attention."
Jimmy Kimmel has mocked Seacrest's wacky behavior on his late-night ABC show, and an Orlando Sentinel recap said Seacrest "was making Paula Abdul seem like a bright shining light of intelligence."
Mary Jo Santilli, the blogger behind the popular "Idol" fan site, MJ's Big Blog, said she sees a change in Seacrest that goes beyond his bizarre behavior last week.