Viewers of the 2011 edition of
in which Maynard was selected by -- and later split with -- second-time chooser
, know she's a single parent. Young daughter
remains a big factor in the decision-making as 25 suitors come calling for Maynard in ABC's eighth round of "The Bachelorette," starting Monday, May 14.
"I am having the absolute time of my life," the pleasant Southerner tells
of making the show thus far. "It's so much more fun than I could have imagined. I had worried about not getting enough sleep, but I have been going on pure adrenaline."
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Though her "Bachelor" run gave Maynard some sense of what to expect, she notes the surprises "The Bachelorette" is bringing her are "true to life. You can ask your friends for advice, but in the end, you're going to follow your heart and do what you want to do. That's what I'm doing, and I'm glad I came into it with an open mind, just like [the series' producers] told me to."
"Ricki is the center of my universe," Maynard states, "and I think it's important for people to see that I didn't just say to her, 'OK, I'm going to leave again.' If I get home at 6:30 in the morning from a rose ceremony, she wakes up at 7, and I'm up making breakfast. I think this will give people a feel for who I am and what's important to me."
Ricki's father, NASCAR driver
Ricky Hendrick, died in a 2004 plane crash. "All the producers and everybody at 'The Bachelorette' have been amazing in accommodating Ricki's schedule and mine," reflects Maynard, who was engaged to Hendrick at the time of his death. "I feel like they're putting my daughter and me ahead of making a TV show. That's their No. 1 priority, but they understand what my No. 1 priority is, too."
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Now being the one to decide in each episode's climactic moments who receives the all-important roses -- indicating which contestants do or don't stay -- sits well with Maynard. "I think that in the past year, I've become a lot more comfortable in my own skin, but it doesn't take the pressure off. These guys have to impress me, instead of me impressing them, so I feel more free to be myself.
"This time around, if a guy falls in love with me, I want it to be the true Emily that all my friends know. I don't want it to be the shy, nervous, awkward Emily that a lot of people have gotten to know. I'm a single mom trying to find a guy."
Maynard reports that she has been in touch with Womack, and that "he's excited for me" on her "Bachelorette" pursuit. In the same way he did twice, she is looking to amiable "Bachelor" and "Bachelorette" host
Chris Harrison as a confidant, especially when it comes down to her choosing between the last two remaining contenders for her heart.
"He is one of my favorite people ever," Maynard says of Harrison. "He is so funny and so humble, and he's a great dad, so he gets what it's like. He knows what does and doesn't work as far as the relationships go, and he's a great, friendly face to see everywhere we go ... just a very calming guy."