Aug. 28, 2007 at 9:57 AM ET
The Miss Teen USA pageant contestant who became a YouTube sensation after butchering a question about why many Americans cannot find the U.S. on a world map says she was overwhelmed by her national television appearance and chalks up the experience to being “human.”
TODAY’s Matt Lauer and Ann Curry gave Caitlin Upton a do-over on the now infamous question during an exclusive interview Tuesday. And this time the 18-year-old from South Carolina nailed it.
But first Upton was forced to relive the moment she will likely never forget. She watched the embarrassing video clip for the first time with Lauer and Curry, and could only shudder and laugh.
“I am sitting here laughing at myself,” she said good-naturedly. “Is that really me? It’s like I’m not in my actual body.”
Upton admitted that she totally froze on national television last Friday during the Miss Teen USA Pageant. Asked why a fifth of Americans could not locate the United States on a world map, she stammered out an answer that made Paula Abdul’s worst “American Idol” moment seem like a model of cogency.
Her answer, in its entirety, was: “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uhmmm, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and uh, I believe that our, I, education like such as, uh, South Africa, and uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uhhh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, should help South Africa, it should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for us.”
The question clearly caught Upton by surprise. She explained Tuesday that she was so overwhelmed by the moment she barely heard any of the question.
“Everything did come at me at once,” she said. “And I made a mistake — everybody makes a mistake — I’m human. Right when the question was asked of me, I was in shock ... I would love to re-answer that question.”
Curry obliged, reading the entire question as it had been asked during the pageant. This time, Upton was ready.
“Personally, my friends and I, we know exactly where the United States is on a map,” she said. “I don’t know anyone else who doesn’t. If the statistics are correct, I believe there should be more emphasis on geography in our education so people will learn how to read maps better.”
She came back later in the show to deliver a flawless explanation of lunar eclipses.
Held up on the Internet as the quintessential dumb blonde, Upton was an honor student in high school who played varsity soccer for four years. This summer, she traveled to Germany with an elite soccer team that placed second in a tournament involving teams from a number of European countries. In her junior and senior years, she was her school’s president of SkillsUSA, which describes itself as “a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled work force.”
She’s taking a break between high school and college to pursue modeling opportunities. Advertisements she’s modeled for have been placed in such national magazines as “Seventeen,” “Cosmo Girl” and “American Cheerleader.” She has modeled for Wrangler, Soffe and Nautica.
She has said that she entered the Miss Teen USA pageant, which is co-owned by Donald Trump and NBC Universal, in part to improve her communication skills. Despite her attack of brain lock on the geography question, she finished fourth in the competition, which was won by Miss Teen Colorado Hilary Carol Cruz.
Upton’s long-term goals include enrolling in Appalachian State University to major in graphic design. On graduation, she wants to study special effects at the International Academy of Design Technology in Los Angeles and embark on a career designing special effects for movies and television.
“I am 18,” she said. “I believe I am a very strong person with a strong character and my parents raised me really well.”
Curry and Lauer assured her that everyone who does live television commits verbal gaffes and that they often wonder at the things they sometimes say during broadcasts.