Polytech senior networked with music industry pros at Grammy Camp to help pave way for a career in entertainment.

Diehard Justin Bieber fan Nia Pope has dreams of a career in broadcast journalism, interviewing the top celebrities in entertainment.

After spending July 18-22 at Grammy Camp in Los Angeles, her goal now seems more attainable than ever, as she was able to connect with music industry professionals there.

She was the only camper from Delaware who attended the program on the campus of the University of Southern California. There were 119 students accepted into the camp. 

One of the people Pope met was her teacher, Steve Baltin, a former Rolling Stone journalist. He’s written more than 600 articles for that publication, including interviews with big names like Aerosmith, Nas, Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park and a bevy of others. Currently he writes for Forbes.

Baltin taught Pope and her other music journalism peers how to prepare for conducting interviews with celebrities, and how to shape those conversations into interesting stories. He also had his students listen to his live phone interview with a teenage heartthrob singer.

“We all love Shawn Mendes,” said Pope, 17, of Dover. “With it being a room of nine girls, we were all begging him to let us sit in on the interview.”

Baltin said his role is to show students that celebrities are just like regular people and they should be approached the same way during interviews.

“It’s as simple as just asking the questions you’d like to ask as a fan,” Baltin said. “Be well researched and just talk to them as if you’re a fan. As long as you’re open and honest and passionate about what you’re doing - that’s the advice I give them.”

What’s Grammy Camp?

Grammy Camp is a five-day summer program for high school students interested in working in the music industry, from being a publicist to performing solo or in a group. Camps are held in either Los Angeles or Nashville.

Students work in one of eight career tracks and are mentored by a faculty of industry professionals who provide valuable insight to help give campers the best chance at achieving success in their chosen career.

Baltin, who has taught music journalism at Grammy Camp for over a decade, said the program can be a significant stepping stone for students interested in working in the music biz.

“These kids, first of all, have amazing access to people who have some of the best stories and best experience,” he said. “Second of all, I think it’s the networking. Some of these kids have gone on to be so successful. They build connections that go on forever.

“Mostly, we emphasize the fact they need to build relationships with each other. They create their own sort of alumni network over the years that continues to help each other out, long after Grammy Camp.”

Other important people Pope met included Chris Sampson, founding director of the popular music program at USC, and Laura Donahue, a professional vocal coach and singer-songwriter based in Nashville.

Pope was also introduced to Alex Greenberg, vice president for the major public relations company Mitch Schneider Organization. MSO has done publicity campaigns for Coachella, Budweiser Made in America Festival and artists like Deadmau5, Ozzy Osbourne and The Doors.

Pope was assigned to write a story on Greenberg. The teen said the publicist shared some important words of wisdom with her.

“In terms of ethics, she was saying when you’re backstage for a concert or festival, everybody will be like, ‘oh, there’s a woman back here. Let’s take advantage,’” Pope explained. “But you can’t let men take advantage of the fact you’re a woman in this field. You have to be assertive.”

Real taste of the biz

While Pope said camp was an overall great experience, she’s bummed that her interview with Grammy-winning producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins fell through. Darkchild has produced music for many artists, including Pope’s beloved Justin Bieber.

“So the whole time we’re waiting for Rodney and they kept telling us he was 10 minutes away, five minutes away; and he never showed,” said Pope, who explained she waited an hour and a half for the producer. “I was extremely disappointed.”

The senior at Polytech High School said that experience was an introduction into the real world as an entertainment journalist. Yet she’s not discouraged. She’s wanted to make a living working with celebrities for years. And her passion remains strong.

“I always know there’s two sides to stories when it comes to a celebrity,” she said. “Growing up, I always wanted to know what both sides of the story are, other than what I see in the tabloids and other people’s personal opinions.”

Sacrifice for daughter

Pope’s mom, Lavern Adams, paid $1,500 in tuition for her daughter to attend Grammy Camp.

Overall, Adams said, she ended up spending around $5,000 for the entire trip, including hotel lodging and a car rental. The mom traveled with her daughter, since campers are required to have a guardian or parent along. Adams brought her 12-year-old son, too, since he’s not old enough to be left at home.

But for Adams, a single parent, the investment was well worth it.

“Nia will be awesome at whatever career she pursues, because she’s very bright and extremely capable,” her mom said. “She’s also mature.”

Pope said her main priorities are graduating from Polytech and deciding on the right college. Though she doesn’t know the school she wants to attend, she realizes she needs to choose one soon.

Seeing her mom shell out a couple thousand to help her become a successful broadcaster is motivating and humbling for the 17-year-old.

“It makes me feel kind of spoiled, because what other parents would drop five grand?” Pope said. “I’m definitely very grateful for my mom and all the money she puts into me trying to follow my dreams.”