Maci Bookout, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., is anything but just another 20-year-old community college student.
For the last four years, virtually every moment of Bookout’s life has been captured on camera. After responding to an advertisement on Craig’s List, Bookout found herself cast on the MTV program “16 and Pregnant,” a controversial “documentary” that led to the equally divisive -- yet unquestionably popular -- spin-off series “Teen Mom.”
Bookout is, for all intents and purposes, a media darling. Fans of her television exploits have posted “video tributes” to her and her son on YouTube, her Twitter account is followed by thousands upon thousands of “Teen Mom” devotees, and she makes regular appearances in the pages of numerous supermarket tabloid papers. Although she frequently rebuffs her “stardom,” it’s quite apparent that, in the eyes of many, many viewers, Bookout is indeed a bona-fide television celebrity.
As with the other “stars” of “Teen Mom,” Bookout periodically makes publicity appearances at colleges throughout the United States. Last week, she appeared at Kennesaw State University, the third largest college in the state of Georgia, for a lecture entitled “The Struggles of ‘Teen Mom’ & Beyond.”
The appeal of the “Teen Mom” program was glaringly apparent, as the relatively small conference hall was jam-packed with students, a majority of them young females. Over the past year, the same university has held speeches by such notables as Megan McCain and world famous economist Motoshige Itoh; the number of attendees for the Bookout lecture was easily double the turnout for the McCain and Itoh lecturers combined.
“I was a typical teenager,” Bookout began her lecture. “I played softball and volleyball. I got good grades. I had never had a boyfriend.”
Flipping a strand of blonde hair from her eyes, she continued, “I was all good, and thought I was better than everybody else. You know, just your typical teenager.”
She recalled meeting her first boyfriend. “It’s just that high school love, where everything’s perfect and they’re the only thing you think about,” she said. “I was just so in love with him that I felt like I was ready to have sex with him.”
Bookout lost her virginity when she was 16. She said that just a few weeks later, she was already displaying symptoms that she was pregnant.
“I actually had no idea how to get protection,” Bookout said. “How to use a condom, anything like that. It was something my high school never educated us on, and now, I wish they would have.”
Bookout’s first visit to a gynecologist’s office occurred shortly after she tested positive on an array of take-home pregnancy tests. She didn’t tell her mother she was pregnant until several weeks afterward, when she alerted her via a text message.
“I finally did it, and she texted me back,” she said. Bookout then received a reply from her mother, reading “What am I supposed to say to that, ‘oh shit, or ha-ha?’”
Moments later, Bookout said she received another text message, this time from her father, who stated “I just wanted to make sure you were feeling OK, and I want you to know I love you forever.”
“I was like, ‘oh God, I’m going to die,” Bookout admitted.
Bookout said that after she gave birth to her son, Bentley, she no longer had the ability to live a ‘normal’ teenage life.
“It was very hard for me to just sit in a classroom knowing that Bentley was home, and it was my responsibility to be the one who takes care of him, not my mom.”
Bookout subsequently dropped out of school, so that she could be a “stay-at-home” mother for her child.
The next semester, she attempted a slate of online classes, which she also ended up dropping.
“Even though I was a statistic as a teen mother, I had already graduated high school, which they think is impossible for a teen mom,” she said. “I didn’t want to be another statistic, that was a dropout in college.”
Bookout now shares custody of her son with her high school boyfriend, although she is currently living with a new boyfriend in Chattanooga. She said that not only does she worry about how her son will perceive living in two homes, but ultimately, how he’ll one day reflect upon living his early years in front of a camera crew.
Bookout said that she is paid by Viacom for her appearances on the program, although she said she has been advised by the company to not publicly disclose the sum. She then said that the upcoming season of “Teen Mom” may be her last on the series.
Since the premiere of “Teen Mom,” many advocacy groups and educators have accused the program of trivializing the issue of teenage pregnancy in America , with some critics saying that Viacom, the parent company of MTV, is guilty of “child exploitation.”
Bookout, however, is defensive of the program, stating that people that criticize or accuse the show of “glamorizing” teen pregnancy have never watched the series.
“It’s anything but glamorous, [and] you see the struggles we go through,” she said. “If everyone in the entire world would go back and watch the first season of ‘16 and Pregnant,’ every episode, from beginning to end, they would never say that again.”
Photo: James Swift