Cat Deeley Talks SYTYCD Emmy Nod: Cheering Seacrest, Toppling Probst, Skirting Fashion Hell

For several years running, reality TV junkies have lamented Emmy’s outrageous snub of So You Think You Can Dance host Cat Deeley in the Outstanding Reality-Show Host category. Last Thursday, however, the oversight was finally remedied, as Deeley found herself scoring her very first nomination alongside Survivor‘s Jeff Probst, American Idol‘s Ryan Seacrest, The Amazing Race‘s Phil Keoghan, and Dancing With the Stars‘ Tom Bergeron. We caught up with Deeley this week to talk about how she’ll approach her big red-carpet moment, why she’s rooting for Ryan Seacrest to beat her in her own category, and which Happy Days character she emulated when she first got word of her nomination.

TVLINE | Congratulations on what has to be the most overdue Emmy nomination in the world of reality television.
[Laughs] Well thank you very much. That’s very, very kind of you. But it doesn’t matter how long I had to wait, as long as I got there in the end; the wait just made everything more exciting. I’ve been trying to stay really cool, like Fonzie, but I’m actually much more Richie Cunningham. I’m like an overexcited hormonal teenager.

TVLINE | Seriously, though, did you ever start feeling like you’d never be recognized, or recalibrate your expectations to not get your hopes up about a nomination?
To be perfectly honest, it was one of those things where I was literally like, “Okay, well, I’ll just wait and see.” Of course it was something that I would’ve really liked in an ideal world, but I’m also quite lucky that I love my job. And so while it’s lovely to be recognized in some way, shape, or form, I always consider myself such a lucky girl anyway. A nomination was secondary, the cherry on top of the cake.

TVLINE | Did you get up early and watch the nominations on TV?
Absolutely not! I was asleep in bed. And then my phone rang, and I had one of those moments where you sit bolt upright and gasp. I went to the phone, and it was my publicist, and I thought: “Would Emily call me if I hadn’t gotten a nomination?” That was actually what went through my head. And then when I found out, I’ve got a couple friends staying with me, and there was lots of jumping up and down, and general hoopla, as one might say.

TVLINE | Plus, So You Think You Can Dance itself got its first nomination this year as Outstanding Reality Show Competition.
Oh my God, it was so much fun. And the great thing was that we had the [Thursday-night results show] to do the day of the nomination announcement. [Shortly after] they announced the nominees at 5:30 a.m. or whatever God-forsaken time it was here in L.A., I was literally running around trying to get myself ready for work. I jumped in the shower, I was standing there doing an interview with Ryan Seacrest — live on radio — in bra and knickers, soaking wait hair, trying to stuff as many cocktail clothes as I could into a bag with high heels, thinking “I hope I’ve got the right thing to wear later!” And then I got to the studio, and it was such a great celebratory feeling, because the show had been nominated, too. And I walked into my dressing room — all my girls were there with champagne and balloons and group hugs. It was great.

TVLINE | So minutes after you got the news, you were on the phone doing an interview with one of your competitors in the category?
Well, [Ryan] was recording for the next day’s [radio show]. And I was saying how overexcited I was, and he was like, “OK, Deeley, let me tell you how it’s gonna go: You’re gonna find a gorgeous frock, you’re gonna look beautiful, I’m gonna wear a suit. We’re gonna go down there and make some polite conversation with lots of people we don’t really know that well. We’re gonna sit there and get a little bit bored, then Jeff Probst is gonna get up, thank everybody and the Emmy voting committee, and then we’re all gonna go out and have cocktails.” And I was like, “Seacrest! You underestimate me! I think what we should do is work as a tag team and take out the competition. So I’ll create some kind of disturbance, then you can stick your leg out when Jeff is on his way up to the podium and take him down, and then it’s every man for himself. Whoever makes it to the podium first can take that Emmy home!” And he was like, “That’s why I love my English friends.” And I was like, “And that’s why we build empires!”

TVLINE | That’s a very Survivor-esque strategy — form an alliance, bring down the enemy.
[Laughs] The irony isn’t wasted on me! I’ll show you Survivor!

TVLINE | The night before your nomination, Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson was a guest judge on SYTYCD, and he specifically mentioned his wish that you finally get recognized by Emmy. Are you going to advocate to have him on every year as a judge during Emmy nomination week?
I should! He could be my lucky charm! What was lovely was that he got a nomination, too. I snuck into his dressing room before he arrived [for the results-show telecast] and wrote on his mirror in red lipstick — congratulations and I’ll see you there — and kissed the mirror all over.

TVLINE | When Jesse paid you those compliments on air, you actually blushed. It seemed very real, not one of those scripted reality TV moments we’re used to.
I didn’t know that was about to happen at all. And being British, we’re not very good at taking compliments. We get little bumbly and a little Hugh Grant about it, you know what I mean? And I almost cried a little bit as well.

TVLINE | I have to ask, beyond your own nomination, was there any other nominee you got excited about?
Seeing So You Think You Can Dance get its own nomination is really great. We were nominated for five of the six choreography slots, and that’s amazing, but that’s more expected for a dance show. [Getting nominated for Outstanding Reality Competition] proves we’re not just a specialized show that only dancers can watch; it’s an entertainment show that the whole family can sit on the couch and really enjoy. I was also very excited to see Jon Hamm nominated [for Mad Men], because he’s an amazing actor.

TVLINE | When you first got this gig, did you envision being the kind of host you are — where you seem to really forge strong connections with the contestants, and really show on air an empathy for what they’re experiencing?
It was never a preconceived notion I had, really. But these people are incredibly talented, they’re incredibly passionate about what they do, and they work really, really hard. What we’re doing is taking normal human beings and putting them in the most extraordinary circumstances. And it’s live in front of millions of people, and there are no retakes. So you’d have to be a pretty strange person to not connect with these contestants. One thing I didn’t envision is that we’d be on Season 8, going as strong as we are. In the beginning, I had these terrible fears that if this didn’t work, I’d be the big bad English scapegoat that they’d send home in disgrace.

TVLINE | You’re not afraid to have fun with the judges, nor to push their buttons a little; occasionally, you even call them out on inconsistencies. Is that hard to do considering one of the judges, Nigel Lythgoe, is also your boss?
Nigel’s actually a really great boss, and lets me do what I want. The one thing I would never do is comment technically, because I don’t have that knowledge and those guys do; even our guest judges have all got real heavyweight backgrounds. But if I feel like one week they say to a couple, “That was great because you put your own style in it,” and the next week they say, “No, you were putting your own style in it, and that’s not good,” then I’ll jump in. I listen to everything. The big thing is, if you are actually in the moment and you really do listen, you know what you’ve got to say. But if you ever step out of it, try to self-edit, I don’t think it works. The right thing will always come to you as long as you’re in the moment. And Nigel has never said “These are the parameters you can work within, or these are the constraints that we have on you.” They let me do what I like.

TVLINE | I’m already regretting this question, but… So you think you can win — an Emmy?
Providing Seacrest keeps his end of the bargain! [Laughs.] You know what, I know I’m not gonna get it. I actually think Ryan deserves it. He handles American Idol with such ease. To do a live show and try to keep it moving, keep the judges moving, hold together the mechanics of the show, it’s quite a dfficult thing to do in live TV, and he does it so effortlessly. And I have to say it’s a shame he hasn’t ever won. It’s the biggest TV show on the planet, and not that many people can be wrong. At some stage, someone is going to have to acknowledge the show, and this is the perfect year for Idol to be recognized. When Simon Cowell left, there was a big debate: Is this show going to continue to be successful? And what Nigel did so brilliantly was put together that panel of people and made it very feel-good. It absolutely proved the show is bigger than just one person or part.

TVLINE | One last thing: Beyond the fact that SYTYCD fans are excited that you didn’t get snubbed this year, there’s an added bonus that known fashionista Cat Deeley is going to be shopping for an Emmy dress as a first-time nominee. How much pressure is there for you to deliver the goods on the red carpet?
It’s like being given the most humungous, delicious, exquisitely heavenly box of chocolates, and going, “Ooh! Which one will I have first?” I’ve got a few ideas already, and a few [designers] have approached me about wearing something for them, and it’s heavenly for me.

TVLINE | Are you leaning toward something bold, something where you’ll either be best or worst dressed, or can we expect you to go classic and traditional?
Oh, I’ll probably go quite classic. Because you don’t know how many times you’re going to be nominated, and if this is my only time, I don’t want to go down in fashion hellfire and be banished to purgatory in some terrible dress. I’m a girl from a small town outside of London, my mom and dad aren’t anyone famous, I never went to [private] school, and it’s kind of bonkers, if you think about it — for me to be doing a show I love as much as I do, and to have this [nomination], too. So no, this is not the moment to take huge fashion risks; it’s a moment to really enjoy it, and to make sure I can hitch that skirt up if I do need to run to the podium to beat Seacrest. [Laughs] It’ll be all about aerodynamics.