Diary of a Media Darling: Jarrett Hill on Outing Melania Trump's Plagiarism and What's Next for Him
The unemployed journalist tells The Hollywood Reporter what it's like to be at the center of the biggest moment of the Republican National Convention and how he hopes to transition his heightened profile into a lasting career: "I would love to do television by day and interior design by night."
It's Friday and Jarrett Hill still doesn't have a job.
If he did, that would've been a lightning fast, sign-here-on-the-dotted line-right-now employment process surprising no one at all, considering the week that this out-of-work 31-year-old has had. Hill scooped tens of thousands of journalists (and the world, really) during the opening night of the Republican National Convention on Monday in Cleveland, Ohio, where Melania Trump delivered a speech using plagiarized text from Michelle Obama's 2008 address to the Democratic National Convention.
Hill, watching the event on his laptop from a Starbucks not far from his apartment in Culver City, noticed the shocking similarities and tweeted out sections of both speeches as evidence. Not surprisingly, his posts went viral, his iPhone blew up with notifications (it completely went kaput shortly thereafter — but more on that and his suspicions about the cause later), interview requests poured in and Hill became the most in-demand media personality in Los Angeles.
The Fairfield, Calif. native became an overnight celebrity in the exact definition of the term because by the time he woke up on Tuesday morning — and East Coast media outlets picked up the story that broke after midnight EST — journalists and producers everywhere knew his name and reached out to book him. In the hours and days that followed, from Tuesday morning through Thursday, Hill estimates that he's probably done more than two dozen interviews. And his Twitter following has exploded to match his newfound notoriety.
On Monday, he had "somewhere between 1750-1800 followers," and today, the count is 18,800. But that doesn't impress him so much. "I wasn't a person who really cared about how many followers I had," says Hill, who has been without a full-time job since being laid off from his producer/digital on-camera reporter gig at ABC Action News WFTS in Florida in April 2015. "I looked more at engagement, focused on responses and using it to discuss things with people."
Those topics mirror his passions — pop culture, politics and interior design — and his 28,000 tweets display Hill's desire to stay on top of the news cycle, with a smattering of Wendy Williams GIFs thrown in for fun. If he could find a job in any of those fields, Hill would be happy, though his ideal career would see him on camera during the day, and focused on his interior design business at night. But again, he still doesn't have any offers on the table.
"I've gotten a handful of calls and emails," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I've seen the headlines that say networks are knocking down my door. That has not been the case. I have gotten a couple of, 'Hey, would you be interested in having coffee,' emails from digital outlets and things like that. Although it would be amazing, I would not say that I'm coming out of this with some big-time job."
He also wouldn't say the famous names who have reached out to him over the past few days. "I got a couple of DMs from people I recognize and that was very cool," says Hill, who hails from "a very blended family" including three brothers and two sisters, some half and some full from his parents' respective marriages. His mother, who works in a hospital, and his father, who has worked at the same company for 32 years, divorced when Hill was 9 years old, and they both still live near San Francisco. "It's not Beyoncé or anything."
Hill then laughs a little, but there's nothing funny about who he really wants to meet — President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. "I have been a longtime admirer of the Obamas, which is why I recognized Michelle's quote. My screensaver is the Obamas at the White House," he admits. "I'm actually sad that they aren't going to be our First Family anymore. I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to meet them, but if I did, I would probably pee my pants."
Speaking of bodily fluids, one thing is for certain, Hill's press blitz, which he coordinated on his own without the help of a publicist, has been so dizzying that even the most seasoned movie star would've broken out in a sweat. He even managed to make the rounds on Wednesday without the use of a cell phone after waking up to find that his iPhone had died sometime in the night.
"It was suspicious to me and I didn't know what to think about that," he admits, adding that he showed up the Apple store at The Grove 30 minutes before they closed on Wednesday night to get some help. "I knew I was pushing it by showing up so late, but I thought that hopefully I could use this 'celebrity' that will only last through today to see if they could help me get my phone back working. They were very helpful and super sweet. I am so grateful."
If you've tried to text or call me today, apologies. My phone hasn't worked since I woke up this morning. ::side eye::— Jarrett Hill (@JarrettHill) July 21, 2016
About the mystery, Hill stops short of saying it was a Republican conspiracy to get him to stop talking, but he watches "too much House of Cards to not just be a little bit alert." That said, if it were anything "malicious," it could've been a Trump supporter who hacked into his phone, he says, carefully choosing his words. "I really don't know what it was," he continues. "And Apple said it could have been an overload from notifications. They really don't know."
Back to that schedule. Hill walked THR through his week, staring with Monday night.
13 interviews in the last 11 hours.— Jarrett Hill (@JarrettHill) July 20, 2016
40 mins of sleep last night.
40 mins of sleep in the car just now.
One more in 3 hrs.
What a day.
• After posting the tweets, Hill watched his words go viral. His hands were shaking because of the uncertainty over what would happen next, but he found the composure to walk home where he first started fielding emails and phone calls. "I got home around 10ish," he remembers. "Before I went to bed, around 2:30 a.m., I had been live on BBC using Skype, done BBC radio, talked to The New York Times and a producer from NBC."
• Hill woke up after 5 a.m. to do an interview with KTLA. "I took an Uber to KTLA and thought that maybe I would do another interview after that but figured it would start to die down and that might be the extent of it," he says. "But after KTLA, I ended up doing Access Hollywood next because my friend is a producer there. On my way there, I was responding to emails from MSNBC and Tamron Hall was direct messaging me on Twitter."
• After Access Hollywood, Hill went down to the lobby in the NBC building where he sat in a cafe to do a Facetime interview with Inside Edition, all the while waiting for a car from CNN to take him to the studio for a segment with Brooke Baldwin. "I got to CNN and while waiting in the green room, I was on the phone with PolitiFact," he recalls.
• "I then was heading home while emailing with L.A. Times, so I rerouted the car to go downtown to their offices. The L.A. Times wanted to come to my house and I wasn't really comfortable with that so I went there instead. The reporter, Brittny, was great, and so was the photographer who took probably 400 photos of me while we were talking," he says, adding that he loved the pics, which have now popped up on other sites like Hello Beautiful. "I finished that and walked down two blocks to Starbucks for a Skype with the NBC affiliate in the Bay Area because a friend of mine from my standup comedy days works there."
• Then came a call from NBC asking Hill if he would be on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. "Would I do it?" he laughs. "Yes, of course! They sent a car to pick me up at Starbucks downtown to take me to Universal Studios, and while I was in the car, I did an interview over the phone with a friend of mine who I adored from the assignment desk at the station where I worked in Florida. She asked me to do an interview for her blog about internships, which have been important to me in my career."
• When I got to NBC, I had one of those moments when I was walking into a room and people were starting to recognize me and say, 'Oh, you're that guy,' which had happened to me while I was working in Florida some, but I always answered it with, 'I don't know who you think I am.' But not this time. People asked to take my picture, and everyone was really nice," he adds. "I did the interview in the studio at NBC and then went to the building next door for the local NBC affiliate. The whole crew over there was really great and I had a great experience."
• After that, Hill had his car, provided by NBC, drop him off at the CBS Radford lot. "I sat on the national set to do an interview and while I was there, the local CBS outlet asked me to stop by their set for an interview with their entertainment reporter," details Hill. "While I was there, I stopped by and talked to a friend from The Talk who I used to work with, and I saw Sheryl Underwood, who told me about how they covered it on their show. She's probably the greatest, most down-to-Earth celebrity I know."
• Hill then ordered an Uber to drive him home, but he remembers nothing of the ride. "I may have been awake for four minutes. I remember putting on my seatbelt and the next thing I know, we were pulling in the driveway," he laughs. "I got home and sat down and realized that all I had eaten was a croissant in the cafe while doing the Inside Edition interview."
• A little food and a short nap later, it was time to do CNN International. "I was scared to go to sleep because I didn't want to miss the car that was coming. But I made it and CNN was a really fun environment," praises Hill, who says he felt accomplished because he was able to work a joke from his time backstage into his comments on camera. "My goal was to say, 'You had one job to do,' while I was on television if it were to make sense. It was a great interview with Isha Sesay and she asked me what Michelle Obama would've done. And I said that she would've been railroaded and people would've said, 'You had one job to do, don't screw it up.' I felt like my whole day was accomplished and I was happy." Happy and home around 11 p.m.
• After taking his suit off, Hill realizes that he hasn't spoken to his parents all day. "I called my mom and my dad and talked to them for five minutes each," he explains. My mom didn't see any of this because she was at jury duty all day so she had all these questions. My dad was out of town but he was gushing because he had been bombarded all day from friends."
• Time for bed: "I don't even think my eyes were open when my head hit the pillow." That was around midnight, Hill says.
I imagine I won't soon forget this day, or this sleepy.— Jarrett Hill (@JarrettHill) July 20, 2016
Goodnight, good night.
• Hill woke up Wednesday to his broken iPhone, so he was forced to do all interviews from home using his computer. In addition to an interview with CNN's HLN, Hill says he did a few podcasts, radio shows and "lesser known stuff" along with a "really good interview" with Vox.com. Later, he went to the Apple store and stopped by a friend's place near The Grove on his way home.
• Thursday morning delivered another early morning wake up call, this time for an interview with Luis Sandoval on Despierto America. "I just left there and then called in for this interview," he says, before adding that he's not close to being done for the day. "I have four other interviews today."
Once Hill has spit out his entire schedule for the week, it's clear the sudden fame isn't going to his head.
"I work in this business, so I know that this time doesn't last forever," he says, showing off a grounded perspective, if not an optimistic one. "I've been unemployed for awhile, so I hope to be able to transition this to a job for myself. We'll see if that happens."
In the meantime, Hill will be closely monitoring the rest of the campaign season, and yes, the speeches, like he did on Thursday night when Donald Trump delivered the RNC's closing night remarks, because, as he says, "I have a responsibility to stay with this story because it's given me so much already."
Spoken like a true working journalist.