Nancy O'Dell already knows 2011 will be big for her, so she might as well welcome it in a big way.
The former "Access Hollywood" co-host -- and former Miss South Carolina -- will return to weekday television by succeeding Mary Hart as co-anchor of "Entertainment Tonight" when the syndication staple ends its current season in May. One way O'Dell is revving back up is by hosting Fox's "New Year's Eve Live" celebration at 11 p.m. today from Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.
"I've never brought in New Year's Eve on a television show, so it will be new and different for me," O'Dell says. "For the past 10 years, I hosted the Rose Parade on New Year's Day [for NBC] so I'd gone to bed at 8 the night before, because I had to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning. This will be quite an anomaly for me. I just hope I stay awake!"
O'Dell knows she needs to get at least one thing perfect her first time. "I just want to make sure I get the countdown right," she notes of the traditional descent of the illuminated globe in Time Square, which Fox will cut to New York for. "That's a huge deal. I'm used to people telling me countdowns in my ear, but what if I miss it by a second? I've been practicing counting backward with my baby girl."
Fox is famous for being edgy, and O'Dell welcomes that in the New Year's Eve situation.
"I love doing live television," she says. "To me, it's the best gig you can have, because you just don't know what's going to happen. It's all spontaneous, like being on the red carpet at the Golden Globe Awards; you never know what celebrities are going to say, and that just adds to the thrill and the excitement."
Musical guests for "New Year's Eve Live" include Travie McCoy ("Billionaire") and "American Idol" alum David Archuleta. "It would be really cool if they [also] grabbed some of the Vegas acts," O'Dell says. "The crazier and the bigger a circus it is on New Year's Eve, the better."
Since leaving "Access Hollywood" last year, O'Dell has stayed busy by raising her daughter and two stepsons and also by launching her Red Carpet Furniture line and writing the recently published book "Full of Love." She'll be seen on the big screen in 2011 in "Scream 4," and she also will co-host "Your Own Show" on Oprah Winfrey's new OWN network.
Clearly, though, O'Dell's main professional priority is "Entertainment Tonight." She'll be seen as a correspondent and fill-in anchor before assuming 29-year "ET" veteran Hart's seat on the program permanently.
"For so long, I was what people considered 'the competition,' " O'Dell says, "but I always had great respect for 'Entertainment Tonight.' It's such a classy show that has always held true to its format. I don't mean to to take down 'Access Hollywood' in any way by calling 'ET' the crown jewel, but it is. It's the original, the one that began this whole genre."
With all she has on the horizon, O'Dell confirms the dawn of a new year is especially meaningful to her.
"It feels like I'm starting a whole new life in a way," she reflects. "There were so many career goals I had set. One was to work with Oprah, and that show debuts in January. And I'll be starting 'Entertainment Tonight,' which I watched when it first premiered. I always thought, 'How great would it be to be a part of that show?' It's going to be a very significant year, I think."