When Caitlin Upton of Lexington, flubbed an answer at the 2007 Miss Teen USA Pageant, it turned out to be the best mistake she ever made.
The 18-year-old is actually better known to many than the pageant winner, Miss Teen Colorado Hilary Carol Cruz.
That's mainly due to the YouTube Web site's posting of Upton's jumbled response to a question on why many Americans can't find the United States on a map. The 48-second clip became a phenomenon, with 19.9 million viewings and countless online imitations.
Pageant officials say dozens of magazines and television shows courted Upton after the posting appeared in August, including NBC's "Today" show, the Ellen DeGeneres show, the Tyra Banks show, ESPN and MTV.
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Job offers came, too, one for a recurring role in a new sitcom.
So, what does she think about YouTube?
"I think it's awesome -- 20 million people know who I am," says Upton, laughing. That's not to say she liked being the butt of jokes, however.
"When people say negative things, it makes me want to prove I can be better. I think I'll always have the last laugh."
To her credit, Upton turned down most of what was offered to her, reasoning that she was being set up for a career parodying her 30-second faux pas. "I didn't need to prove to the world, over and over, that I could make fun of myself," she says.
Among the few offers she did take seriously was an invitation four days after the pageant to meet with Donald Trump, who co-owns the Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. Upton says it was a coincidence that she was in New York, interviewing for a modeling job at Ford Models.
"When I walked into his office, he said: 'You are more gorgeous than I expected. You are going to model for my agency, and I won't take 'no' for an answer,'" Upton recalls. "It was unreal."
She signed with the Trump agency a few weeks later and intends to spend part of 2008 modeling in Spain, Italy and Australia. "It might not be great money, but the pictures will be great, and I can build my portfolio," says Upton.
It's a vastly different future than what was planned before the Miss Teen USA pageant in August.
She graduated in May from Lexington High School with a 3.7 grade point average, expecting to study graphic design at Appalachian State University. After that, she hoped to attend the International Academy of Design Technology in Los Angeles and find work designing special effects for movies.
That's still Plan B, should modeling prove less than lucrative.
Her reign as Miss Teen South Carolina now is over, which she says has relieved some stress associated with the YouTube affair. "I always felt like somebody was watching me," she says. "Even now, I find people looking, as if I'm familiar."
She continually gets asked about the Miss Teen USA pageant. Her oft-repeated explanation is that she was overwhelmed by the moment, didn't hear the question, and tried to wing it.
The question, by the way, was: Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?
Upton's stammered, 30-second response cited the U.S. education system as a possible solution but only after suggesting it might also help the children of South Africa, Iraq and Asian countries.
She still made third runner-up in the pageant."I had so much running through my head that all I heard was 'map and U.S.' So, I answered it poorly. My mistake. I'm only human," she says. "I really didn't think that anybody would remember, but it sure looks like everybody knows now."
And that's fine, because now Upton is out to prove something.