McKayla Maroney Likes The Weeknd, Is Finally Impressed
The Olympian talks TV, music and the rebranding of a meme
It’s doubtful Reuters photographer Bryan Snyder thought twice when he snapped the photo that would launch a thousand Photoshops: Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney on the silver-medal podium with her lips pursed to the side in disappointment. Yet within days, the photo inspired a Tumblr — and in turn a web phenomenon — that would vault Maroney’s “not impressed” pic to the No. 1 spot on Yahoo’s list of the Most Viral Photos of 2012.
Maroney, who took ownership of the meme almost immediately with a contribution of her own, has kept busy since bringing home gold and silver medals from the London Games. When she’s not making an extended victory lap with her Fierce Five teammates — they recently wrapped a 40-city tour — the 17-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., is guest-starring on the CW’s Hart of Dixie, judging the Miss America pageant and hanging out at the White House.
Extra Mustard caught up with Maroney to discuss the #notimpressed meme (and her plans for rebranding), what music she’s listening to, stupid interview questions and the biggest misconceptions about gymnasts.
So have things slowed down for you since the tour ended?
McKayla Maroney: No, they’ve sped up. The tour was kind of like living a fake life. We were waking up and doing rehearsals for the tour, then all of a sudden we were doing a show, and it was non-stop for three months. I had three surgeries so I wasn’t always doing very much gymnastics, but I was waving and signing autographs for fans because they all came out and that why I was there.
What was it like to do that kind of victory lap?
MM: Every show I wanted to cry at the very end. It was just a special moment to have the crowd filled with young girls because I remember being one of them: I went to the tour in 2008 after the Olympics and I just remember it was one of the moments where I was like, “I need to go to the Olympics. This needs to happen.” It reminded me of myself.
How’s the experience been filming Hart of Dixie?
MM: It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve wanted to get into [acting] my entire life, but being in the gym eight hours a day it was completely impossible and my coaches would have killed me if I spent time doing half and half, because whatever you do you’ve got to do it fully. I finally had time to do it because I because I broke my leg.
I’m in a new episode that’s coming out in a couple days (on March 5). It’s, like, legit: like I have real lines. The last two [appearances] I did were smaller but I’ve taken a step forward each time.
Are you a TV watcher?
MM: I definitely am. I used to really like the Kardashians but now they kind of drive me crazy. I really like the show The Lying Game. I like to laugh. My favorite show is The New Girl, and I like How I Met Your Mother and Suburgatory, but really I can get into anything.
What did you think about the Destiny’s Child reunion at the Super Bowl?
MM: Any sort of reunion with them is very special. That was a huge deal and I enjoyed it. It was definitely interesting.
Which member of One Direction is your favorite?
MM: I think I would have to choose Harry. I’ve listened to a couple of their songs. They’re really poppy and fun but I like other stuff.
Who are you into right now?
MM: I really like Rihanna. And I actually do like Justin Bieber. I like the Weeknd. I like Katy Perry. I just did a music video with Jared Leto, so I like him too now. I like a lot of different music.
How much has your life changed from when you got on the plane to fly to London for the Olympics and since you arrived home?
MM: I haven’t even really noticed yet because I haven’t even stopped, but it definitely has changed. I look back [to before the Olympics] and it kind of feels like forever ago. It scares me — How did that happen so fast? How did I get used to all this? — because you can’t really prepare yourself for that. You’re in the gym eight hours a day, you’re not preparing for cameras and running around and doing tour stops and making acting appearances.
Has it been fun for you?
MM: I’m living a dream right now. I feel very blessed and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think I’m so used to it because I’d always told myself, “I’m going to the Olympics, we’re winning a gold medal and this is what it’s going to be like when I get home.” So in my head I knew it was going to be that way. So it wasn’t like, Whoa, this is crazy, I never knew this was going to happen. It was a dream come true.
Earlier this week, a local newscaster asked (double gold-medal-winning long-distance runner) Mo Farah if he’d ever run before. What’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked?
MM: The thing with gymnastics is people don’t always know the events. So they’ll ask me about the rings and I’ll have to say, “Women don’t do that.” Or they’ll use the wrong words, like horse instead of vault. They get confused.
If you could have any actress play you in a movie, who would you choose?
MM: I’m obsessed with Angelina Jolie and Mila Kunis, so one of those two.
What is the biggest misconception about gymnasts?
MM: Well, for me, people sometimes think I’m mean. This one lady told me, “You scare me, when you’re on the floor you are just so serious.” People have said they think I’m intimidating, but it’s just kind of what you have to be when you’re on the floor.
Ryan Lochte has a famous trademark phrase …
… yeah …
MM: I don’t even know how you pronounce that. why is it spelled with a “J”?
I couldn’t tell you. If you had a catch phrase, what would it be?
MM: Well, now it’s gonna be impressed because I am impressed with 7UP Ten (the soft drink she’s inked an endorsement deal with). I’m kind of tired [of the #notimpressed meme] — well, not tired of it, it’s going to be a part of me for my entire life — but I’m turning it around to impressed.
How did you feel about those #notimpressed photos when they first went viral?
MM: That was weird. I definitely had to turn it into something positive, which I try to do with anything in my life. I didn’t want people to think of me as someone who wasn’t impressed with a silver medal, because obviously that’s a huge accomplishment and I was so happy. It was more about me just being not impressed with falling at the Olympics in my last event. I was kind of just like, “I wish that was my national anthem.”
It was really hard at first, to know people were thinking, “Wow, you are not a good sport.” It was hurting my feelings because I’m the total opposite person from that.
And you did kind of take ownership of it with your Instagram response.
MM: We wanted to go swimming at the pool — we were going to race the Olympic swimmers — and the pool was closed. So I just told the girls we should do a #notimpressed picture. And that just surprised so many people, to make it something funny, to make it something for people to laugh at and enjoy.
Did you have any idea how massively popular the meme would get?
MM: God, no. You can’t prepare yourself for that.
What was your favorite person to take a #notimpressed photo with?
MM: President Obama was the most amazing person that I’ve met. I had never had anybody say to me, “I do it too.” He was like, “Yeah, I do it at least once a day, me being the president I’m always not going to be impressed with something.” It was pretty special to have him say that to me. I’ve done with different athletes too, like Colin Kaepernick.
What advice would you have for young athletes coming up behind you?
MM: It doesn’t matter what it is, whether you want to the Olympics, if you want to be an actress, whatever your dream is: Follow it. I had a lot of people telling me I couldn’t go to the Olympics. My dad is like 6-2, and they were like, “You’re gong to be way too tall.” And when you’re too tall for gymnastics, you hit the bars, you can’t do anything, you’re done, you gotta leave.
I was pretty much only good at vault at one point, and I changed gyms just for that reason. A lot of people didn’t believe in me. You always have to believe in yourself. You have to know that you’re special and whatever you want to accomplish in your life is possible if you work really hard for it. Dream big, work hard, do what you want to do.