Augusta native goes 'Off the Record' with celebs

From sports icon to movie star to platinum-selling singer, the American celebrity is fodder for a million stories . As a journalist covering the beat of the rich, famous and well-exposed, Augusta native Allison Samuels has seen her share of it all.

A Newsweek entertainment reporter for more than a decade, Ms. Samuels has covered professional athletes, hip-hop singers, Oscar-winners and more. Essentially, they all proved to be regular people, sometimes with eccentric habits, but they made for some interesting experiences.

She recounts some of her encounters in Off the Record, ($24.95, Amistad). The book, which was released Tuesday , comes at a fitting time, the Glenn Hills High School alumna said in a telephone interview this month.

"I just sort of felt that there were a lot of stories that I had had, that happened to me, and since we're in such a celebrity-loving time where people are so taken by celebrities, that I might as well write about my experiences with different types of celebrities," she said.

A reporter who has interviewed Bill Cosby, Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan, Tupac Shakur and others among the Hollywood elite (and black Hollywood in particular), Ms. Samuels had plenty of incidents from which to choose. Almost too many.

"I actually forgot some things. I left some things out. I wrote about the most prominent things," she said . "People like Tupac, you don't ever forget your interactions with people like him; and Denzel, you know, or even Michael Jordan. Certain people - these historical people in a way, these legends - I knew I sort of had to write about."

It might seem like a no-brainer now, but Ms. Samuels recalls that early in her career it would have been a challenge for some to see these people as newsworthy.

"When I got there 13 years ago, nobody was covering hip-hop, nobody was covering Snoop and Dre, and you have 100 reporters to go out and cover, you know, Madonna. But nobody's interested in covering Biggie," she said. "The obvious thing for me to do was cover Biggie. ... It's a hard thing to do to get into a magazine unless you have that particular niche. That was my niche. And I felt like if I don't cover Babyface and people like that, nobody else is."

Doing so helped her write the stories she wanted to read in the publication. Although things have gotten better, there's still a long way to go, she said.

Ms. Samuels started her career writing for Ebony Jr. when she was still a student in Augusta and dreamed of doing celebrity interviews such as the ones she read in Ebony and Essence magazines. While a student at Clark Atlanta University, she interviewed director Francis Ford Coppola after the death of his son.

The book includes juicy, sometimes humorous and touching, details from her interviews that didn't always make it to print.

"Most of the stuff in the book, if it could have gotten into the story, I would have done it," she said. "I don't think I put anything into the chapters that betrayed the person. I put more of my reaction to it."

Writing those thoughts and the usually off-the-record personal responses is typically hard for a journalist. In certain instances in the book, though, it was cathartic, such as the chapter about Angela Bassett, in which Ms. Samuels reveals how a quote she included in her profile of the actress was blown out of proportion by other media.

The quote, about why Ms. Bassett turned down Halle Berry's Oscar-winning role in Monster's Ball, caused a fire storm.

"I think there are those that have the attitude that we do stories and that we as journalists don't care," Ms. Samuels said. "That was a story that really upset me as much as it upset her, but of course you never have a way to express that, really, as a journalist because we report the news. ... It was something, in a way, I wanted to make a point of saying, 'This wasn't intentional; it's just the way it turned out.'"

Even with the ups and downs of covering celebrities, Ms. Samuels said, she learned early and never forgot that the sources she wrote about, in addition to the stories she had to share about them, were the same as any other she might be assigned.

"I've always had the attitude that these people are just other people like anyone else," she said. "You have to approach them like that, and if you don't, then that puts you at a disadvantage as you're doing the story. ... They are just people. Sounds cliche, but it' s true."


What: A meet-and-greet with Off the Record author, Newsweek reporter and Augusta native Allison Samuels

When: Noon-2 p.m. Wednesday, the Post Exchange, Fort Gordon, Building 38200; and 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Borders Books and Music, 257 Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or


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