As a UCF Knight, Lauren LaFrantz Black reached for the stars—and now she talks to them. Well-known for her country music blog, she’s going to talk to more for the GRAMMY awards this February. But her story isn’t really about the starry fruits of her labor. It’s about how a UCF student balanced academic excellence with an intense passion—and worked hard to blend the two into a homegrown media powerhouse.

For their blog, (CMIL), Lauren and her close friend Erin Lefebvre quick-draw the news on country music, its stars and its new hits. Even well-known artists have said they can’t keep up with them. One major artist tweeted at them to say he often gets his news from Lauren and Erin’s site.

And that website is generating serious interest. In the last 30 days, they’ve had 212,000 hits (or visits) on their site.

She’s Homegrown. And Balanced.

Lauren remains loyal to UCF and uses her training in broadcast journalism to be effective on the red carpet and have a non-gossip, ethical approach to what she does. After all, it was while she was at UCF that it hit her what she really wanted to do—meld her degree with her passion for the music.

“I think her dedication to both school and the music is how she’s gotten to where she has,” says Dr. Tim Brown, one of Lauren’s professors from UCF’s broadcast journalism program. “If she missed a class to go to a concert, she would always come tell me and say ‘this assignment will be in early.’ And she always turned in work worthy of her achievements. It was always good.”

Tim thinks Lauren is a model for other students in UCF’s broadcast journalism program. Students of the subject sometimes enter the program because they just want to be on TV—they don’t have a passion driving their desire. And she was a great influence on other students in the program who saw her dedication and discipline. He even looks at Lauren as an example for himself.

“How does she do it all?” he asks. “She has a paying job as a consultant for a huge restaurant chain, does this website and always remained focused on school. And she never sat in the crying chair. While other students have hit that wall and cracked, she never did. She always had enthusiasm.”

Tim tells me more about Lauren’s loyalty to UCF and to her home, Florida. She tells me she has no plans to move to Nashville anytime soon, despite requests from stars in the industry.

Nope. No plans to move. She’s pretty sure she’s staying right here in Central Florida—because it’s her home. Her dream started here, after all.

Childhood Dreams Realized.

“I grew up with country music. I remember listening to Trisha Yearwood’s ‘She’s in Love With a Boy’ in the car with my mother. That was the song that started it all for me,” she says. “And then I saw an Alan Jackson concert when I was, I think, 10 years old. Since then, it’s basically become my life.”

Add one degree and mix it with drive and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Still committed to the values she learned at UCF, Lauren’s no-diva approach to her recent fame is reflected in her business-casual conversation. She’s relatable; her smile is warm and her hair is tied neatly into a ponytail while she holds a cup of coffee. For a woman who mingles with the stars on the red carpet, chatting with the likes of GRAMMY Award-winning artist Miranda Lambert, she is surprisingly grounded.

Artists like Luke Bryan link to their site—and these are the days when the visitor numbers spike even higher. They’ve had their site crashed before due to the high number of hits.

Behind the industry-mingling blog are two very down-to-earth women who are still fans at heart. The name of the blog says it all.

Shared Passion. Shared Success.

“I met Erin at a Kenny Chesney concert in New York in the summer of 2007 and we just clicked. She lives in Maine, but we would talk on the phone for hours about the music—new singles, new stars.”

The two grew close quickly and, in 2008, Lauren’s then-boyfriend (who is now her husband) casually suggested they start a blog. They figured it would be fun.

Lauren didn’t think there would be enough stories to post breaking news every day. They had no idea that day what they were in for. “And boy, was I wrong,” she says. “There’s just two of us and sometimes we post 20-25 news postings a day.”

Lauren’s UCF education in broadcast journalism is crucial, as they do national radio call-ins for news reports, interviews with stars and labels and phone calls with the stars to hear new singles directly. Lauren once had to talk to UCF’s Knightly News in the hallway at UCF. And that happened several times for radio call-ins, as well.

It’s hard work, but she loves it.

This Labor is Love.

The blog is for fans, by fans. Just as its name indicates, all of the work is about the love for the music. They love it, but the reality is that it now costs money to maintain. Erin and Lauren have had some hard times where they had to be financially inventive.

“There were times when we just couldn’t pay the bills. The website costs thousands of dollars a year to maintain—we have to pay for our servers and the tools you need to run them. We have someone who helps us with the development side,” she says. “There have been times when Erin and I looked at one another and asked, ‘Why are we doing this?’ But the answer is always love.”

When they finally just had too many readers to service and too many bills to pay, they turned to their fans for donations.

“We’re not in this to make money, but there are costs. It was amazing how much support people gave us through donations. We made the bills that month. It almost made me cry.”

But they kept going. Love might be the drive, but discipline puts it to good use.

The GRAMMY Awards.

In addition to covering the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards and the Country Music Television (CMT) Awards, the website has just hit a new level of success.

CountryMusicIsLove is the official Blogger for Country Music for the 54th GRAMMY Awards.

We’ll be watching the blog to see just how many artists CMIL gets to interview and just how much larger that little idea back in 2008 becomes after the awards ceremony.

It’s big, now, but we’re pretty sure it’s going to go boom.