NORTH HOLLYWOOD — It's just after 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, and Michelle Branch, like most 19-year-olds, is hanging out with some friends.
But that's where the "like most 19-year-olds" part ends. Earlier in the day, Michelle flew in from Chicago — where she was shooting a video with Santana — to practice for her upcoming tour with Sheryl Crow. Right now she's in a rehearsal studio picking out an outfit to wear to Thursday's MTV Video Music Awards, where she's up for three Moonmen Best Female Video, Best Pop Video and Viewer's Choice (click for the complete list of 2002 VMA Nominees).
Branch, who showed up wearing torn jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, picks her first possible VMA outfit: a velvety pink Miss Sixty suit over a silky peasant-type blouse by Monah Li. (Click to check out all of her picks and vote on your favorite.)
"I need you guys to sing the 'Pink Panther' theme," she begs of her four companions, who are seated mirror-side and judging the action from a black leather couch that only seats three comfortably.
"Duh-duh — duh-duh," the girls start to sing, in what can hardly be called unison, before halting in a fit of laughter.
"This is cool," she says, arching herself up on her bare toes to approximate how it will look with heels. "I like this suit. It's a Miss Sixty. I've always worn their jeans, and I didn't know they made pink suits. ... It's kind of like being comfortable and a little boyish, but it's pink, so it's not [boyish], right?"
"Right," agrees the couch crew, which consists of makeup artist Tamara Ogden, fashion advisor Trish Summerville, sister Nicole Branch and management assistant Lindsay Lipton.
"OK, I need to see each of you [give me] either thumbs up, thumbs maybe or thumbs down," says Branch, who is then met with a confusing array of sideways, upward and downward digits.
"I guess I'm going to have to go back to the well," Branch sighs, turning to her wardrobe rack and selecting a silky black dress that ties in two places on the front and is worn over a matching pair of black slacks.
"It's a dress but it still has pants, so I'm completely comfortable in it, and I like it," she declares with a bright smile. "It's a lot comfier than the pink suit."
Her friends agree — eight thumbs up.
"This particular dress is a piece from Strenesse, and it's from the runway show they just did, so it's actually not out yet. It's just a showroom piece, so maybe I can show-room it off at the VMAs," she jokes before heading back to the wardrobe rack.
"This seems interesting," she says, grabbing a striped, long-sleeved pink and turquoise knit rayon Missoni dress with fringe along the bottom. "The VMAs are all about being different and interesting, so I'm up for doing this."
Once it's on, she can't resist spinning and sending the fringe flying. "It twirls really nice," she says, giggling. "I feel like a ballerina. Twirling, twirling. Oh, I'm dizzy looking at the stripes ... twirling ... stripes ... twirling."
Again, the couch is unanimous.
"I would totally be up for going out in jeans and a T-shirt to the VMAs, but ... I wanna do something that shows another side of me and show them that (putting on a hillbilly accent) I can look purdy once in a while, that I clean up nicely."
Selection of the fourth and final outfit competes with the starving artist's inquiries about where to find good Italian food nearby. Eventually, she picks another Miss Sixty outfit a pair of flared black pants with a black coat over a black tank top. She finishes it off with a multicolored scarf from Missoni.
"I love Steven Tyler's style, 'cause I'm a huge Aerosmith fan," she explains. "This is a little bit more traditional rock and roll."
Looking at herself in the mirror, she says, "Scarf: A bazillion dollars. Suit: A bazillion dollars. Loser at the VMAs: Priceless." Her friends erupt in laughter as she insists, "I'm kidding, I'm kidding."
"This is really cool, because I could go to the VMAs and be totally comfortable, but leave to go to the parties and be even more comfortable. I mean, I could wear this with Converse [sneakers] if I wanted to," she says, turning toward Summerville, "but I won't."
A look of relief passes over the stylist's face. "Thank you!"
Catch all the sizzlin', star-packed VMA action direct from Miami on August 28. MTV News' preshow kicks things off at 6:00 p.m. ET/PT, followed by the big show at 8 p.m.