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Brian Dunkleman, Original ‘American Idol’ Cohost, Regrets His Exit From the Show: ‘Did I Quit? Did I Get Fired?’

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. In an essay written for Variety, published on Thursday, April 7, original American Idol cohost Brian Dunkleman details his regretful exit from the history-making show after just one season.

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Dunkleman, 44, starts off by recalling the moment he landed the coveted gig on the Fox show alongside a then relatively unknown Ryan Seacrest.

Ryan Seacrest, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini and Brian Dunkleman
Ryan Seacrest, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini and Brian Dunkleman on Fox’s “American Idol” in Los Angeles, Wednesday, August 28, 2002. Kevin Winter/ImageDirect/FOX

“Maybe it was knowing that I was about to start making $17,000 a week, an amount that I would later learn was relatively low according to industry standards,” Dunkleman writes of his “uncontrollable sobbing” that happened after booking the job on American Idol in 2002. “But considering the fact that my car at the time wouldn’t go in reverse, it might as well have been a million.”

Brian Dunkleman poses in the press room for Fox's
Brian Dunkleman poses in the press room for Fox’s “American Idol” finale for the farewell season at Dolby Theatre on April 7, 2016. Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

The former television star also notes that getting asked to be a part of the competition reality series was particularly emotional because he had just sobered up after a year and a half of “heavy drug use” and had recently entered therapy to deal with the death of his father.

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Dunkleman, who left the pop culture juggernaut (which would go on for 15 seasons) to focus on his acting career, is still unsure whether he quit on his own accord or got the ax from Fox.

“I probably beat them to the punch. I wanted to have an acting career, and I knew that leaving when I did would give me the best shot of accomplishing that,” he explains. “Still working on it. But the undeniable truth is, I just didn’t have the wisdom at the time to handle what was happening.

“Do I regret not remaining on the show now that it’s coming to an end? Yes,” the actor and comedian admits. “Especially when I open my bank statements. But without the benefit of hindsight, I would have done the exact same thing.”

While he wishes he would’ve stuck by Seacrest’s side, Dunkleman — who is now married with a 3-year-old son — isn’t bitter about his decision to walk away from the Idol stage. Instead, he looks back on that time in his life with a smile on his face.

Host Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman speak on stage.
Host Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman speak on stage during Fox’s “American Idol” finale for the farewell season at Dolby Theatre on April 7, 2016, in Hollywood. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for NARAS

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“Fifteen years later, looking back at that summer, it almost doesn’t seem real. Like it happened to someone else. Considering the mental and emotional state I was in, it’s incredible I even made it through that whole first season. It’s such a blur now,” he reminisces. “There are some memories that are still so vivid: having a dance off with Paula Abdul at a club in Miami; getting hammered with the executive producer at a strip club in Chicago, telling me in the back seat of the cab that ‘Fox thinks you’re going to be a huge f–king star’; being on stage at the Kodak theater, just a few feet away from Kelly Clarkson giving a goosebump-inducing performance, being positive that she was about to become a star.”

Dunkleman made a surprise appearance on the April 7 series finale of American Idol, where he told Seacrest how proud he was of his former cohost, who has become a major media mogul and personality since Idol began.

“I just wanna stop by and congratulate the show on struggling by for another 14 seasons without me,” he joked to the E! host turned TV producer. “You’ve done an amazing job hosting this show all these years. I congratulate you on all your success.”

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