By ALICIA RANCILIO The Associated Press
New York — People tend to stare at nineteen-year-old Maci Bookout.
“If I go grocery shopping or something it’s not that bad but on the weekends that Bentley’s dad has him and me and my friends go out … to a club or something I can tell that people are like watching to see how I’m going to act or what I’m going to do,” says Bookout, of Chattanooga, Tenn., mother of a 2-year-old named Bentley and one of the stars of MTV’s “Teen Mom,” a reality show about kids with kids.
Bookout and her co-stars, Farrah Abraham, Amber Portwood and Catelynn Lowell, first made their TV debut on another MTV reality show, “16 and Pregnant.” The series was so successful that the network tapped them to star in the “Teen Mom” spin-off. Nielsen reports some 3.65 million viewers tuned in to its third season premiere on July 5.
Viewers watched Lowell and her boyfriend Tyler grieve over the daughter they gave up for adoption (they maintain they made the right decision), Abraham’s ups and downs with her mother (one altercation between the two led to her mom being charged with assault) and Bookout navigate co-parenting with her ex-fiance Ryan.
Motherhood has made the teens instant celebrities, with tabloids and bloggers hot on their trail at every change or rumor in their lives.
“Like moving or marriage or are we pregnant again,” says Abraham, 20, who has a 2-year-old daughter named Sophia. “You know those things, I guess, are attention-grabbers so it’s understandable why that would happen.”
But Abraham doesn’t think that having a baby should make her a celebrity or a role model for other teens.
“By no means do we think, ‘Oh, it’s cool to be a teen mom.’ I definitely don’t think that it’s cool,” she says. Lowell, 19, from Port Huron, Mich., has used her celebrity to help teens become more knowledgeable about safe sex and the responsibilities of parenthood. She speaks to teens at high schools and churches about teen pregnancy and the various options available.
“All of us kind of agree on one thing. As long as the show is doing its job as far as preventing teen pregnancy and stays educational the show will continue,” says Bookout.
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But celebrity hasn’t been as easy for all the teens, particularly 21-year-old Portwood, of Anderson, Ind., who was given probation in June after pleading guilty to two domestic battery charges against Gary Shirley, the father of her child. The incidents aired on the reality show. The following week, Shirley called 911, fearing Portwood was about to hurt herself. The reality star was hospitalized and is now undergoing treatment at a rehab facility. Her child, Leah, is living with her father.
“I love Amber. I mean I hope that she just keeps her head up and she knows what she needs to get done and stays strong,” says Lowell. “I think where she’s at is good for her right now and she just needs to focus on getting better.”
Bookout attributes some of Portwood’s troubles to not having a proper support system.
“I just feel that Amber is very alone in her world at home and it would be very, very difficult for anyone to be alone,” Bookout says.
MTV did not respond to a request for a comment about Portwood.
A second version of “Teen Mom” aired on MTV earlier this year and this group is not without controversy. Jenelle Evans, 19, from North Carolina just finished rehab. Last March, she was charged with assault after a video of her attacking another girl on camera went viral.
“I feel like, ‘Shouldn’t you have learned from altercations with me and my mom or Amber and her boyfriend?’ We put our lives out there so everybody can learn from it and not keep making the same mistakes,” says Abraham. “Teen Mom” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EDT.
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