Melissa Rycroft, Tony Dovolani

Melissa Rycroft was feeling good after her foxtrot on Dancing with the Stars All-Stars' premiere — until she saw the leader board at the end of the night. "We were ninth [out of 13], so I was very worried," Rycroft tells "We were so happy and thankful when we were called safe. You just don't know what could happen this season." The Bachelor alum also doesn't know what it's like to perform her next dance, the jive — because she never did it in Season 8 after suffering a rib injury. "I may be more nervous Week 2 than in Week 1," she says.

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See what else the Season 8 alum has to say about joining All-Stars, competing as a mom and why she  desperately wanted to be paired with Tony Dovolani again.

Congrats on making through the first week.
Melissa Rycroft:
Thank you! It's such a relief. I think you could tell by the reaction of Tony and me — we were not expecting to be safe. We had low scores. We were at the bottom of the totem pole and those few that were below us have huge fan bases. I was really nervous. You don't know where the fan vote comes in, so you don't know how you compete in terms of votes. You just kind of hold on by the hair on your chin that you have enough to go through, and thankfully we did.

It's fair to say a lot of the cast has bigger fan bases than you, and last time you were also riding a lot of sympathy from The Bachelor. How much of a concern is the fan base to you?
I'm aware of it, but I think everybody is coming in with their own advantages and disadvantages. The good thing about the show is that even if you don't come in with the biggest fan base, it doesn't mean that you can't get it. Last year, Katherine Jenkins was a great example of someone nobody in America, at least, knew of too much and she went all the way to the finals. You never know what will happen with fan bases. ... But I can't compare the two seasons at all. My season, I was coming off all the hype of The Bachelor. It was humbling to get so much support and I think a lot of people wanted to see a success story come out of it at the time. Of course, this time, you don't have that coming into it and you just hope that the fans that you've made, you've kept and they support you week after week.

Last time, you were called in days before the premiere to replace Nancy O'Dell. What was it like to get more notice this time?
[Laughs] Well, this time, I had to clear it with the family first. Now that we're back in Dallas and we have the baby, we just needed to make sure that everything was taken care of, so it was good to be asked ahead of time. I asked several times too who else was in the cast and they wouldn't tell me! So I just had to take a leap of faith and say, "You know what? Let's just do it."

You're trying to gauge the competition?
Pretty much! Had I known everybody that was going to be on, I might not have done it again! [Laughs] I don't know. I didn't say "yes" right away, that's for sure. My life is so different now.

Is Maks leaving Dancing with the Stars?

You're a mom!
Yeah! And it's hard to be doing this and not be selfish. It's much tougher this time. You want to focus on you, your partner and your dance and what you can do. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, my mind is elsewhere. "Has Ava eaten lunch?" "Is she OK?" I'm constantly texting [my husband] Tye, "Did you change her diaper? Are you sure?" I also really want to do this to show that I still can do this and you can do it all. You can figure out the balance and make it all happen.

Your daughter's 19 months, so how aware is she of what's going on?
I think when she saw me Monday night, I scared her with all the makeup on! She just kept looking at me with this face. She had no clue! I wish she was a little older so it'd be something that we can share together, but I'm definitely going to keep every memento I can and share it with her when she's older.

Were you worried that you might not be partnered with Tony again?
I was. I wanted to be with Tony again. There was fear that Tony and I are not back together, but maybe they wanted to split us up and mix us up with new partners. But there was also the fear of, "I'm going to have to work with someone new and learn their style and technique." There's something so familiar about Tony that I love and I just hope people are not tired of seeing Melissa and Tony together. Our biggest challenge is reinventing ourselves and keeping up with the new, creative teams that are going to be fresh every week. That's kind of good because it's an added incentive that you're just gonna work that much harder.

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He said you're the best partner he's ever had.
Very sweet! I'm definitely more focused this time. If I'm going to leave Ava for however long to practice, I'm not going to mess around. I'm like, "Tony, we're not goofing around! We're gonna get in and do it and go home." I'm on a mission.

How rusty were you?
Oh, very rusty. My hips are not nearly as flexible as they used to be and I'm guessing that's from what they went through. [Laughs] It was hard. I'm not used to being that active. The first couple of weeks, I was really tired because your body's not used to moving that much. But we're going into Week 4 of rehearsals now and my body is kind of getting used to working at this pace again.

But you have the jive now and you didn't do it your season.
I know! It scares me to do the jive because it is a very unnatural dance for me. I think I'm the queen of straight posture and straight legs and pointed toes. And the jive is the complete opposite. It's energetic and jumpy and you're right, I didn't perform it in Season 8. I had hurt my ribs and when we went to the hospital to get injections to numb it, they punctured my lung, so I completely had to pull out. So I don't know what it's like to perform it, but everything's going well so far. We just have to keep up with everybody.

What's your take on the cast now that you've seen everyone perform?
Everyone's amazing. From an audience point of view, it's phenomenal to watch because there's no weak person. I think everybody is capitalizing on their strengths and it intimidates me greatly. It's very scary this season. I don't think there's anybody that's thinking "I'll be safe until at least Week 4 or 5." You don't know. As an audience member, you can definitely watch the show in a regular season and at least narrow down about five people you know are going to make it until the end. There are always a couple of people who will be one of the first to leave, and this is the first season where you're going, "I literally have no clue!"

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.