News & Politics

How CBS News Journalist Robert Costa Got John Mayer to Play His High-School Prom

Oh, he was almost a roadie for Maroon 5, too.

Costa (left) with singer John Mayer, whom he covered as a music critic for the local paper—and eventually persuaded to perform at his prom: “He came on, and it was a magical moment.” Photograph courtesy of Robert Costa.

Robert Costa could have been a roadie for Maroon 5—until his parents encouraged him to take the job. “I thought, ‘If my parents are encouraging me to be a roadie, maybe I’ll think about going to college,’ ” he says. So instead of handing Adam Levine his in-ear monitors each night, Costa went to Notre Dame, was a national political reporter for the Washington Post, cowrote a book with Bob Woodward, and is now CBS News’s chief election-and-campaign correspondent. He told us more about his lifelong love of music and how it influenced his approach to journalism.

“I went to Pennsbury High School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and worked for the school paper. At 16, I applied to be a student reporter for the Bucks County Courier Times and became a music critic. I created a music column, which, looking back, I cringe at its title: ‘Jam Band Bob’s Musicology.’

“In the fall of 2002, I go down to the Liacouras Center at Temple University to cover John Mayer. I’m taking meticulous notes as the opening band is playing. [Their manager] taps me on the shoulder: ‘Would you like to meet them?’ So I go backstage, and I meet and interview Maroon 5. I say, ‘You guys should come play at my high school.’ They’re like, ‘Well, how much are you going to pay?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ A few months later, I got a call from Maroon 5’s manager that they were coming to Philly for a show and had some time in the afternoon. So I went to my principal, and to his credit, he let me do it.

“I kept trying to nudge Mayer’s management to have him come [too]. Then the day before my prom in May of 2004, I got a call that Mayer was willing to come, but he needed to keep it super-secret. He came on, and it was a magical moment. He finished his set by saying, ‘Go be amazing people.’ And that’s how I ended my own speech when I spoke to my graduation a few weeks later.

“I used to think there was a line between people in the world who are doing interesting things and those of us who are just regular. When I was in high school, I realized we have the ability, all of us, to kind of make things happen. That inspired how I approached journalism, which is you can interview anybody, you can talk to anybody, if you just approach it in a way that has some integrity and some ingenuity.”

This article appears in the June 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.