Kelly Ripa, the bubbly, blonde, and garrulous host of Live With Regis and Kelly (formerly Live With Regis and Kathie Lee), made the leap from semi-obscurity to American icon in early 2001, when the producers of that nationally syndicated daytime talk program selected her as the replacement for 15-year hostess Kathie Lee Gifford. Born October 2, 1970, to parents of mixed Irish and Italian heritage, the photogenic Ripa began her career as an actress -- first in high-school productions, then as a participant on the USA channel's Dance Party USA, and finally as a soap opera star on All My Children. Her portrayal of psychologically tortured teenager Hayley Vaughan on that program spanned 12 years, from 1990 through 2002. During her time with that series, she also met and married co-star Mark Consuelos, and eventually had several children with him.
The actress' assignment on Live With Regis represented the denouement of a long, suspenseful, and nationally publicized search after Gifford withdrew in mid-2000. In the final analysis, many insiders felt that executive producer Michael Gelman and others had clearly made the right choice, for then-30-year-old Ripa's ascent to the co-host's chair helped the show reel in the highest ratings of its multi-decade run. Moreover, the program's fans asserted that the central banter between "Reege" and his hostess had never once been livelier, more entertaining or more fluid.