LEXINGTON, SC (WIS) - Until one famous answer, Lexington's Caitlin Upton was a favorite to become Miss Teen USA. It was her moment, then, "All of a sudden, I was asked this random question I was not expecting. I was in such shock."
Caitlin's dad, Bill Upton, says, "When the lady read the question, we were thinking, what was that?"
And her mom Carol says, "She simply had a panic attack, which could happen to anyone."
With that answer, the Miss Teen USA title was out of reach, and she finished third runner-up.
Then came the internet and media onslaught. Carol says, "First it seemed like a tsunami was hitting our little family and changed us forever. It was overwhelming."
More than 15 million people logged onto YouTube to watch and laugh at her fumbled performance. Broadcast, print and talk TV all wanted her interview. Bill says, "I felt like a Hollywood agent."
She agreed with NBC's Today Show, hoping to redeem herself. This time, she would not lose. Caitlin says, "I'm not the girl who answered that question in a silly way. I'm a strong independent woman who knows what she wants in life."
Now for the first time since the pageant, the Upton's agreed to an exclusive interview with WIS News 10's Hannah Horne.
On one hand they want the publicity to go away, but on the other, it's a chance to show their true family. Bill says, "You take your worst 30 seconds and put it on TV and you'll be judged very poorly."
Carol also asks for some understanding, "I would like for people to judge my daughter on more than a question, and one answer. There's so much more to her than that."
Eighteen-year-old Caitlin, played for Lexington High's state finals' soccer team. She loves animals and volunteers with Project Pet.
And she's making the best of the publicity, "If I had answered that question right and happened to win, I'd never been given the opportunities."
Those opportunities include appearing on MTV's music video awards show. She's also signed a deal with Donald Trump's modeling agency. She flew to New York Wednesday morning to begin work. She will live in the Trump Apartments in New York City - and the modeling agency will book her jobs. Her work could garner up to $25,000 a day.
Caitlin's assignments are likely to be in Milan, Japan and Australia. Caitlin says, "My lifelong dream has been to travel the world and pursue my modeling career. Randomly, that has offered me that opportunity."
Carol says, "She's learned some hard lessons and gained more than she's lost."
Hannah asked Caitlin if she thinks pageants, especially nationally televised, put too much pressure on young women her age. She said accepting that challenge makes you stronger in the long run, and to quote her, makes you not scared of life.
Reported by Hannah Horne
Posted by Chantelle Janelle