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Jasmine Richards should have been cramming for exams last week. Instead, the Grade 12 student flew to New York to attend her first movie premiere. She had to. She was in the movie. "I probably should have been studying, but the premiere was calling my name," she laughs.

"It's crazy to think that I've gone from being a normal kid to all of a sudden being at a premiere of my own movie, and paparazzi actually know my name!"

The (almost) 18-year-old actor from Oakville, Ont., plays a key supporting role in Camp Rock, Disney's new TV musical that is billed as the heir apparent to the High School Musical franchise.

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Since the age of 11, Richards has slowly built her career in Canada with parts in TV series such as Da Kink in My Hair, Naturally, Sadie and Overruled! But landing a role in Camp Rock - a star vehicle for pop group the Jonas Brothers - has launched her into a whole different universe.

At the New York premiere, Richards faced the press in a black sheath made for her by an Oakville designer (paired with a H&M headband and $20 boots), then did 80 interviews in a row as flashbulbs popped and fans clamoured for autographs. "It was a very scary experience, and at the same time very exciting."

Her co-stars, Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas, are used to the media's glare, but this is their first feature film. Disney created it to showcase their next best tween sensation (after Miley Cyrus and her Hannah Montana series). The "JoBros" second album made its debut at No. 5 on the Billboard chart and is still in the Top 50, their next CD comes out in August and they're featured on the Camp Rock soundtrack, which went on sale last week.

Disney knows that if you grab the kids with a catchy tune, the adulation will follow. And unlike High School Musical, Camp Rock has a wider mix of tunes, from ballads to pop anthems to hip-hop beats. "Music is the parlance of your kids and mine," Gary Marsh, the entertainment president of Disney Channel Worldwide, said before a screening of Camp Rock last month.

In the film, Joe Jonas (the cute one) plays Shane, a spoiled rock star sent for a time out by his bandmates (brothers Kevin and Nick Jonas) to do community service as a counsellor at summer music camp. "I showered in cold water. I looked at a tree. It's been three hours, I need hair product," he whines early in the movie.

Clearly Shane has a lot to learn about camp, but before the summer is over there is a girl to woo (newcomer Demi Lovato), songs to sing, dances to learn and lessons for all about not changing who you are to fit in. It's a favourite Disney theme, so you know when one character declares: "Being popular is so not a 'so what!' " that she's in for some dramatic comeuppance.

The musical was filmed last September in Ontario cottage country, at Camp Wanakita in Haliburton and Kilcoo Camp near Minden. The locations were gorgeous, Richards says, but fall came early last year and "it was a big change for the L.A. kids.

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"We were out [filming]in T-shirts and shorts and because of the cold weather we wore hot pads taped to our backs, in our pockets, in our shoes. It was crazy."

Toronto actor Daniel Fathers laughs when he remembers the experienced director of photography trying to figure out what do about the encroaching fall colour. (Keen-eyed viewers will notice the leaves changing colour from scene to scene.) "It was a major concern," he says. "They were filming leaves, and then sending that film down to Los Angeles to see if they could change the colour to keep it [like]summer."

At 42, Fathers was the elder statesman on set. He had never worked with so many kids and hadn't even heard of the Jonas Brothers before. He didn't know what to expect, especially from 18-year-old pop star Joe Jonas, with whom he had many scenes. Fathers plays the camp owner, an aging Cockney rocker who shames Shane into caring about his summer job.

"He switched off the teen pop star and turned on Joe Jonas the actor," Fathers says. "He was as pro as anybody with his experience could possibly be. When I saw the film, I was really impressed."

But it was 20-year-old Kevin Jonas who still has Richards in a swoon. In a key scene, her character picks up a guitar and sings her heart out. Richards had to look like she knew what she was doing. "He gave me guitar lessons on set, which was awesome. I mean, how many girls can actually say, 'Hey, Kevin Jonas taught me how to play guitar.' "

As soon as her exams are over, Richards will be making plans for her summer and her future. Now that she is graduating, she will take a year off school and chase her acting career in Los Angeles. "Being in this film has motivated me. ... There are a lot of doors that have been opened now."

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Camp Rock airs Friday at 8 p.m. on Family and Saturday at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Composing at camp

We're rubbing off on them, eh? Not only are the Jonas Brothers opening for Canada's own Avril Lavigne on her European tour, but most of the lyrics for the pop band's new album were written while filming Camp Rock in Ontario cottage country last summer. "Our hotel had this huge room with a piano," co-star Jasmine Richards says, "so everyone would go and sit around the piano and Nick would play and sing a song that he wrote." A Little Bit Longer is the band's third studio album. It will be released Aug. 12, and they'll be performing some of the songs on their next North American tour, which kicks off July 4 in Toronto.

C.D.M.

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