“This is the best job in the world,” says veteran radio personality Elvis Duran as the iHeartRadio Music Festival kicked off its 2017 edition on Friday night. Staring down a packed interview schedule that includes practically every big name appearing on stage and off – Miley Cyrus, Kesha, Pink, Lorde, Harry Styles and DJ Khaled, among many others – if Elvis Duran is sweating, he’s not showing it. As smooth and personable on-air as he is behind the scenes, it’s no wonder artists gravitate to his morning show on New York’s Z-100.
“I love music, all different types, [but] interviewing new and upcoming artists are my favorite thing,” says Duran, who allowed Variety to shadow him for the two-day concert. “To meet an artist when they first start out is like having a seat on the 50-yard line and watching them get a touchdown. … The Weeknd, Pink, Harry Styles, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Niall Horan, Kesha — these are all artists I interviewed back before anyone knew who they were. To watch them turn into these superstars is just amazing. They are like my kids.”
The feeling is clearly mutual. Upon stepping into the iHeartRadio broadcast studio, where Duran and co-host Danielle Monaro held court – alongside iHeart personalities Bobby Bones of The Big 98, The Breakfast Club’s DJ Envy and Angela Yee, and Charlamagne the God of Power 105.1 — Miley Cyrus came with a confession: “Elvis my favorite to talk to. … You are really number one, but I am not allowed to say that.”
But Duran is as cool and welcoming to all – from a contest winner to the biggest of stars – aided by a well-oiled machine of iHeart staffers Jennifer Leimgruber, EVP of entertainment programming for Premiere Networks, Dennis Clark, VP of talent development, national programming group, Elizabeth Fazio, director of talent engagement, and Steven Levine of the Elvis Duran Group, who handled bookings and publicity for the Las Vegas event.
Pink is first to enter the radio ring, greeting the room with a, “Hey, y’all.” Duran reminds the singer that her very first time taking flight was at the iHeartRadio festival in 2012 – later on, Harry Styles would joke that he too wanted to fly over the T-Mobile arena crowd, but that Pink stole his harness.
The One Direction alum in equally charming – and dashing, wearing a red checkered custom Gucci suit, which the iHeart social media team promptly alongside an image of Mike Myers as Austin Powers. Who wore it best? Within seconds, Duran takes the information straight to the airwaves and invites fans to share their thoughts with a hashtag.
Also dressed to impress is 30 Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto, who iHeart chairman and CEO Bob Pittman notes, “looked like he was ready for Burning Man” (the executive attends the desert happening every year). Radio is a medium that Leto and his brother, Shannon, will always be loyal to. “I think that radio is a huge and important piece of the puzzle,” Leto tells Variety. “We grew up on radio. We discovered bands like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and The Who and Kajagoogoo. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that radio changed our lives.”
With the show in progress in the arena, Duran continues the broadcast throughout the night and pulls off two more interviews with Big Time Rush alum and Macy’s IHeartRadio Rising Star James Maslow and Bebe Rexha, previewing her two forthcoming Saturday appearances before her surprise appearance later that night with French DJ David Guetta. Although Guetta’s on-air interview is with iHeartradio personality Enrique, he saunters over to Duran, who grills him on the spot. Duran can’t help himself. He is naturally curious.
“I think interviews are good when you are an actual fan of the person you are interviewing,” he says.
The next day, Duran is up bright and early and in a van leading himself and the rest of the crew to the Daytime Village for an afternoon of music. It is here that Duran mingles with fans from all over in a set up complete with artificial turf, a comfortable viewing area with tables, drinks and an open view of the stage. It’s from there that the staff watches country star Kelsea Ballerini and rising star Khalid—who will later surprise the crowd joining Lorde as an on-stage guest—entertain a young and eager crowd.
Speaking to Variety backstage, Ballerini recalled, “Hearing ‘Stupid Boy’ by Keith Urban and stopping in my tracks, thinking that is the kind of music I want to write — something that is so striking that when you hear it, you stop and you listen.”
Duran has several introductions to make during the Daytime Village portion of the festival, including Bebe Rexha, who would be joined by Louis Tomlinson for a surprise performance of their current single, “Next to You,” and Noah Cyrus, who is so excited to see Duran that she rushes down the side stage stairs to give him a big hug and a scoop — she adopted a puppy from the puppy adoption tent.
Backstage, All Time Low singer Alex Gaskarth sings Duran’s praises after the band’s well received set. “He came on board early and was such a supporter of us coming into this new world,” he says. “He has been there for a while, waving the flag and we appreciate that. “
It’s almost 3:30, and Duran needs to rush back to the hotel and pack, as the host has to catch a red-eye back to New York after the Saturday evening show. He and the crew are whisked off the grounds and promptly back at the T-Mobile Arena at 5 p.m., where make-up maestro Barbara Batterman is waiting to apply her magic.
By 6 p.m., Duran already has a Kesha interview in the can, then has to set off to Lorde’s dressing room for a private one-on-one. Fifteen minutes later, he’s back in the broadcast studio to record a live break with Bones as he awaits an interview with a hoarse Julia Michaels. “I am so proud of you,” Duran says, joking that he was “speaking so much because you can’t.”
The parade of artists entering the broadcasting booth continues, with Niall Horan celebrating his song, “Slow Hands”—reaching No. 1 on the Top 40 radio charts — and Cyrus, decked in a banging white lace get-up adorned with red hearts for the occasion, joking that she’ll “get dumped” by fiancé Liam Hemsworth if she brings another animal home, like the puppy she was cradling.
The good vibes won’t stop as DJ Khaled fills the room with a giant posse. “I’m grateful to touch the stage,” says the rapper, who will later bring out Travis Scott, Demi Lovato, and Quavo for his closing set.
By 9:30 p.m., it’s time to head over to the Green Room to meet “Scream Queens” star Keke Palmer, looking stunning in red. The two share some laughs and grab a photo before being escorted to the stage, where they stepped out in front of tens of thousands to introduce Horan as the number one artist in America.
With that, Duran returns to the backstage area for a few more on-air breaks and quick goodbyes to the team, but not before wrapping the show with a little IHeartRadio family love: KIIS-FM and “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest.
As Duran gets ready to catch the red-eye out of Vegas (“I miss my puppy and I miss my guy,” he says), he takes a moment to acknowledge those who have been there throughout the entire weekend.
“To be honest, I do very little,” he downplays to Variety. “I have to buy clothes to wear on the stage and on camera, that’s all I do. The people who work with us year-round are the ones who put this together. They produce it, they write all our artist information and they prep us for every break. I can’t take credit for it. I just show up. I really do.”