Emily Maynard Johnson searched for love twice on national TV. She found it back in Charlotte, and four kids later, she’s finally living her dream — popsicles, bubbles, trampoline and all.
by Caroline Portillo
Photographer: Joseph Bradley Photography
Wardrobe styling and production: Whitley Adkins Hamlin, the Queen City Style
Hair and makeup: Patrice Clonts
On Ricki: HVN Lindy dress, Coplon’s, $895, Stuart Weitzman nearly nude sandal, Coplon’s, $398
On Emily: Red Valentino long-sleeve print dress, Coplon’s, $1,850, Paloma Barcelo ankle-strap black suede Bibi sandal, Coplon’s, $450, Jennifer Behr Belosa earrings, Poole Shop, $525
On Tyler: Canali all-wool summer weight suit with micro stripes in deep cobalt blue, $2,295, Eton pale pink sport shirt with navy buttons, $245, DiBianco hand-stained monk strap shoes, $795, all from Taylor, Richards & Conger
Emily Maynard Johnson comes to the door with her 1-year-old son on her hip, her 2-year-old by her side and her 3-year-old talking to her from the staircase.
“I should have scheduled this for when Ricki was home,” she says, referring to her 13-year-old daughter. “She could have wrangled them.”
But Emily, 33, has a good system. She ushers her boys — Jennings, 3; Gibson, 2; and Gatlin, 1 — to the wide front porch of her Montibello home, a stunning stucco with a California-wine-country aesthetic. Scattered around is some leftover confetti from a birthday celebration for her husband, Tyler, also 33.
She pulls a wand out of a gallon-size bottle of bubbles, which provides a distraction for all of two minutes. Then, the boys want snacks. Emily ushers them, granola bars in hand, through the blooming cherry trees in the front yard to the trampoline in the side yard, where they jump, roll around and (we’re talking boys, here) knock each other over.
Emily, dressed in a gray Blondie T-shirt, fitted Paige jeans and glittered Golden Goose sneakers, climbs in periodically to referee. And when she needs to, she pulls out the trump card: “Do I need to call Santa?”
Searching for love
It’s been more than eight years since the world fell in love with Emily Maynard as she searched for love on reality TV. She started on The Bachelor, the popular dating show where women compete for the affections of a handsome man and are weeded out week by week. She was 24 at the time, a single mom from Morgantown, W. Va. Her backstory was memorable: When she was 19, Emily’s fiancé, NASCAR driver Ricky Hendrick, died in a plane crash. Five days later, she found out she was pregnant. She named her daughter Ricki after her dad.
Soft-spoken Emily stole Texas bar owner Brad Womack’s heart on the show, which aired in 2011, and the finale ended with a proposal. They split within months.
In 2012, Emily returned to the spotlight, this time on Season 8 of sister show The Bachelorette, where she dated 25 men, traveled to exotic places — often with daughter Ricki in tow — and did a lot of talking about her feelings. After two months of filming, she picked entrepreneur Jef Holm, who proposed. For a third time, she said yes. A few months later, they parted ways.
“I just felt so beyond broken,” Emily says. “I had promised the world, ‘Really, I really mean it this time.’” Emily came home to Charlotte and settled back into the day-to-day routine of her life with Ricki.
Then she got a text from Tyler Johnson.
‘On one condition’
Tyler and Emily had first connected at a birthday party years earlier, before Emily’s appearance on The Bachelor. They bumped into each other again later, when they were both volunteering at Quail Hollow Middle School. Every Thursday, Emily taught jewelry-making. And every Thursday, Tyler would help Emily carry the boxes of beads to her car.
He thought she was beautiful and loved her commitment to the students. She thought he was handsome and loved his calm confidence, grounded in faith. But by the time Tyler asked for Emily’s number, she’d already signed on to be The Bachelorette. He was stunned when she told him. “I was like, ‘This is crazy. Do you not feel this connection we have? Are you nuts?’” Tyler recalls. Then again, he didn’t put much stock in reality-TV-born romance. “If you’re not engaged after the show, we’ll hang out,” he said.
But Emily did come back engaged, and, for a little while, she and Holm tried to make it work. A few months after their 2013 split, Emily got a text from Tyler: Would she mind tweeting about an upcoming social-justice conference he was helping promote? I will on one condition, she said: You have to take me to dinner.
About a year and a half later, Emily and Tyler were wed in a surprise ceremony at a farm in York, S.C. Attendees thought they were coming to an engagement party. Instead, they found a stunning rustic setting with lanterns suspended from oak trees, a tent lit with chandeliers and string lights, and tables covered in peonies and hydrangeas. Emily and Ricki both wore dresses of blush and white.
Love letter to God
Little more than a year after they married, Emily gave birth to Jennings. Then came Gibson and Gatlin: three kids in two-and-a-half years. And Emily still thinks about having a No. 5.
“I just like chaos all the time,” she says. “That’s when I thrive. Even if they go to their grandparents’ house for a night, for the first hour I’m like, ‘This is amazing,’ and then I’m like, ‘This is horrible.’” Most days, she’s up by 6:30 a.m. Tyler makes breakfast for the kids, typically pancakes and eggs.
Emily still has some outfits from her Bachelorette days — yes, they let you keep the clothes — but the high heels, sequins and statement jewelry she was known for on the show (“It was like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn threw up all over me,” she says) are a far cry from her current aesthetic. Her goal now: try to wear black leggings only two times a week.
Now, the kids are back inside and equipped with
Firecracker popsicles on her white sofa. The youngest, Gatlin, drips red popsicle juice down his bare chest and onto a pillow. Emily is unfazed. She turns on a YouTube video of Blippi, an educational series for children, and settles down at her dining-room table.
Emily has a level of comfort in her own skin that she didn’t have in her reality-TV days or in the aftermath of the broken engagements, when she would read and obsess over every story written about her. Even if a post was positive, she’d go straight to the comments section.
She chronicled her emotional journey in a 2016 book, I Said Yes: My Story of Heartbreak, Redemption, and True Love, published by Thomas Nelson (a faith-based arm of HarperCollins) and written with the help of ghostwriter A.J. Gregory. But while the book unearthed some feelings about her time on the ABC franchises, she says it also served as a love letter — to God. Emily sourced much of her material from meticulous journals she’s kept for years, an exhausting process that left her feeling wrung out and hungover. The running theme in those journals: loneliness and emptiness, and a constant search for fulfillment through a relationship or through Ricki.
“And the one thing I’ve learned over the past however many years is that (fulfillment) can only come from Jesus,” Emily says. “That changed everything for me. I didn’t feel like I needed to be in a relationship. I didn’t feel like I needed the approval of the world. I didn’t feel like if I got a nasty comment on Instagram that the world hated me. There’s not much that rattles me anymore.” Her faith has given her the strength to stop letting others’ comments shape the way she views herself.
Tyler, in particular, wants to shape the way Ricki views men — and how she should be treated by them. The general manager of Hendrick Mercedes on Independence Boulevard, Tyler loves to pick Ricki up in a fancy car, bring her flowers and take her on a date.
“I fell in love with both of them,” he says. “When I married Emily, I married Ricki.”
In case you’re wondering, Tyler has never seen an episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. And Emily hasn’t seen either show since her own seasons. Watching other contestants and hearing the familiar tropes just felt too weird, too real.
“I could just see him, picturing me saying all the things people say on the show, like, ‘I’ve never felt this way before,’” says Emily. “It just felt like cruel punishment to have to watch and imagine your wife saying all those things.”
It’s been years since Emily was on The Bachelorette, but her following is still strong. These days, Emily has nearly 380,000 Twitter followers, 317,000 likes on her public Facebook page and nearly 650,000 followers on Instagram. Most of her posts are about suburban-mom struggles — like how Target needs a day care or how she has to summon up courage to take all four kids to Discovery Place at once.
In March, Emily traveled to Los Angeles for a reunion of all the former leading ladies on The Bachelorette. There, she realized most of the previous contestants were parlaying their TV fandom into Instagram followings and, in turn, Instagram sponsorships.
“We were out there and people were like, ‘You haven’t even posted since February! What are you doing?’” Emily says, “There’s a lot of money to be made, apparently. But I’m not selling Flat Tummy Tea. I’m not selling Sugar Bear Hair. I’m just not doing that, out of principle.”
And she won’t let Ricki create any social-media accounts herself just yet. But that doesn’t stop Ricki from calling Emily with a special request. “I have a question,” Ricki says. “My friend follows you on Instagram. Will you follow him back?” Apparently, more than half a million followers on Instagram lends you some serious street cred, whether the 13-year-old contingent has ever seen The Bachelor or not.
Emily just laughs, rolls her eyes, and sets her sights on the mound of stuffed animals and toys Jennings and Gatlin are resurrecting from the hall closet: “I’m busy!” she says. SP
Stylist Whitley Adkins Hamlin of the Queen City Style sat down with Emily to discuss how the Charlotte mom’s personal style has evolved. Comments were edited for brevity.
A lot has changed since The Bachelorette. You are now a mom to not just one, but four children! How would you describe your personal style?
I am constantly running and chasing, so it’s very easy to throw on a pair of leggings and call it a day. Recently, however, I really have tried to make the effort with my daily attire because I find that it really changes the way I feel.
How has your personal style has changed over time?
I go for more classic styles versus trends. I am trying to dress my age. When you are 20, you can wear whatever you want. I’m 33 now, so I am dressing more consciously for my body type.
Whose personal style you admire?
I love layers — I think that Nicole [Scronce] at Capitol is the master of layering. My mother-in-law, Linda Hendrick, has amazing style. She always has on the most amazing outfit that is so natural and perfect for her personality. It’s not about what label is current or trending but more about what is the most unique piece she can find.
Let’s talk about Ricki’s clothes and being a mom to a young teenager.
Right now, for girls, the style is “less is more.” Ricki is 13, and so I remind her modest is hottest. Ricki has her own personal style. She dresses to [the beat of] her own drum, which I think it is great.
What do you think about Tyler’s personal style?
Tyler has always had great style. He can dress up in a beautiful suit and look great, or wear farm clothes and look like a super-attractive cowboy.
Let’s back it up a bit and talk about your style in The Bachelorette.
I had a stylist, and he was amazing. He knew that I was Southern and very girly, so he provided me with clothes that were all totally over the top: sequins, ruffles, feathers. He sort of dressed me like a Southern beauty queen, but I rolled with it and loved it all!
You always look put together. Were you into clothes as a child?
I always was. I think some of my biggest fights with my mom were about clothes. Now, it is just not my number one priority. I think this is part of being comfortable with who you are. Family is my focus. It’s a season in life … I can just throw on whatever in my closet takes very little effort and still feel happy.
Libertine “Bloomsbury Group” painted flowers wrap dress, Neiman Marcus, $2,875, Jennifer Behr Belosa earrings, Poole Shop, $525, vintage multistone ring, stylist’s grandmother’s
Attico purple sequin dress, Coplon’s, $3,038, Sophia Webster chiara embroidered butterfly satin sandals, Neiman Marcus, $795, Mercedes Salazar crystal hibiscus earrings, Poole Shop, $338, Noelle Munoz 6 stone ring, $165, all other rings Emily’s own
On Ricki: Giambattista Valli long-sleeve floral mini dress, Capitol, $2,810, Jennifer Behr Daniela stud earrings, Poole Shop, $198
On Emily: Dolce & Gabbana short-sleeve high neck floral gown, Capitol, $2,895, vintage suede belt with gold hardware, stylist’s grandmother’s, Jennifer Behr Belosa earrings, Poole Shop, $525
Caroline Constas Liliana dress, Coplon’s, $795, Eric Javits Antigua woven raffia fringe sun hat, Neiman Marcus, $32, Sachin & Babi white coconut earrings, Coplon’s, $250, Blinde sunglasses, stylist’s own
On Emily: Marc Jacobs Runway long-sleeve organza blouse, Capitol, $995, Dolce & Gabbana floral maxi skirt, Capitol, $1,495, Elyssa Bass pearl circle earrings, Coplon’s, $178
On Tyler: ABBEYDALE two-piece suit, $1,550, ABBEYDALE custom white dress shirt, $205