"We can't begin tonight's show without acknowledging the passing of a television pioneer and my dear friend, Dick Clark," the host said at the top of the two-hour episode. "Without Dick, a show like this would not exist. He will be missed greatly."
On a night when the theme of Idol's performances was "then and now," Seacrest honored the late TV icon, known as "America's Oldest Teenager," who died of a massive heart attack Wednesday.
"Our thoughts and our prayers go out to his family. I know this guy – he's in a better place, saying, 'Hey, let's get on with the show, okay?' " Seacrest said. "You got it, boss.
Seacrest, who had worked with Clark on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve since 2006 and considered him his own personal idol, later talked backstage about Clark's legacy – as a man and an industry legend.
"This is a tremendously emotional day for so many people – fans of music, fans of television, broadcasters and certainly me personally, as Dick Clark was one of those incredible pioneers of our business," Seacrest said. "He taught me how to do television."
He added: "I studied him as a kid, and I had the fortunate opportunity to work with him for several years on New Year's Eve. And so I am sad and I am grateful for what he has given us, and certainly what he has given me."
"It was a tough night to do the show. I miss him, and there was nobody like him."
Reporting by MIA McNIECE