NEW YORK — Five hours before the Video Music Awards, Cassie still had no idea what she was wearing to the big show. The clock began ticking.
"I don't know what I am doing," she said, suddenly stressing. Just moments earlier, the R&B up-and-comer had arrived at the Roosevelt Hotel ready for a high-glamour makeover. With a gray hoodie pulled up over her head, big sunglasses obscuring her eyes and her trademark door-knocker gold hoop earrings on, Cassie admitted she was exhausted from a late night out at the pre-VMA soirees (see "Nas And Pharrell Surprise Luda's Guests; Jay-Z Takes Care Of Business: VMA Party Report").
"I went to Pharrell's party, then Marquee and then Door," she said. "I met Jennifer Lopez last night and now I feel like I could die. I saw her and Marc Anthony and they were saying congratulations to me and were super sweet."
Then jeweler Jacqueline Cohen knocked on the door to show Cassie some pricey diamond pieces — the race to putting together a complete VMA ensemble had officially begun.
After bobbling a bauble and dropping it on the floor ("Oh my God," Cassie gasped), she took a seat in the styling chair while her team got busy. L'Oreal Professional hairstylist Cesar Ramirez blew her naturally curly hair straight for about a half hour, while Nars makeup artist Lena Koro applied a base to Cassie's face.
But the real work began when stylist Negar Ali finally arrived — a little more than three hours before Cassie was due to take off for the red carpet — armed with a selection of high-end dresses and a laptop full of photos of the singer from a fitting the day before. The whole crew sat on the floor and huddled together, noshing on turkey sandwiches while evaluating the different options.
"We're really trying to give her a classy look and we're trying to put a look together that's not expected at the VMAs," said Ali. "She has a great sense of style and she can wear fashion so well and we're introducing her to new designers, a high-end look, but still very sexy and young."
The choices? An $8,000 gold Gucci, a Stella McCartney backless jumper dress, a vintage Halston, a Missoni ("Isn't it very Mary-Kate Olsen?" Cassie asked), a white Zac Posen, a sequined vintage Paco Rabanne ("I don't want to sit in that for four hours," Cassie said of the weighty looking dress), a nude-colored Blumarine flapper dress and a sheer white Bottega Veneta dress.
Immediately, an intense debate began. Ali favored the Veneta, and called it "elegant, sexy and classy. It's such a strong look, head to toe. It's so pretty and chic and classy. Also, it will be covered in all the magazines," she added. "No one will be wearing Bottega Veneta and it's going to put her on a whole different level. They dress Scarlett Johansson and Nicole Kidman and that's it. Bottega doesn't normally do these kinds of events."
Cassie's publicist Amanda Silverman didn't agree. "It's cool, but it's not VMAs," she proclaimed. "This is something one of my mom's friends would wear."
Cassie, who looks to Gwen Stefani and Eva Mendes as style icons, was perplexed, torn between whether she should go high couture with the Bottega Veneta, or rock her body in the sexy Blumarine mini dress. "I don't want people to expect something out of me, but maybe that's just what people want to see," she mused.
After an impromptu fashion show for everyone in the room — two publicists, a hairstylist, a makeup artist, a stylist and her assistant — the people had spoken: Everyone enjoyed the Blumarine dress more.
With that out of the way, Cassie hopped back into the makeup chair, but Koro said she didn't have much more work to do on the Bad Boy princess. "She's very naturally beautiful, so I'm just going to give her a little something-something," she said. "She loves lashes, so we're going to go full-on with the lashes. Then, we'll give her some black around the eye line and nude lips."
"I just want to look natural tonight," Cassie said. "I don't want to look overdone."
Her hairstylist agreed. Ramirez picked up a curling iron to give Cassie's locks "the wave," and noted, "It should be long, wavy and over the shoulder. I'm going for '60s style. I want it to be really pretty and not too overdone."
With all the dress-picking and primping, the scene quickly turned into a disaster zone, with shoes piled on the bed, dresses strewn all over the room, jewelry laid out in piles, bags on the floor and empty soda cans everywhere. But Cassie was focused more on her big night than the ruined hotel room. "This is my first real red carpet where I'm going out on my own," she said. "I'm really excited, but I'm also nervous."
A year ago, Cassie wasn't exactly putting together an expensive ensemble on VMA night. But now the 20-year-old Cincinnati native has over 35,000 friends on her MySpace account, a hit song with "Me & U," Diddy's full support — and can't keep up with all the fame.
"There are like 100,000 friend requests right now on my MySpace," the former Delia's model said. "Ryan Leslie, my producer, has his interns accepting all my friends."
As the countdown to departure time grew more urgent — Cassie only had one hour to hit the red carpet, and she already missed her 5:45 p.m. call time — assistant stylist Sara Dunn put the final touches on Cassie's dress, altering the straps with a needle and thread. After a frantic final scramble, Cassie was red-carpet ready in her Blumarine dress, Lisa Levine necklaces, Jacqueline Cohen earrings worth $3,500, and a woven-leather clutch purse, bangle bracelets and $800 heels, all by Bottega Veneta.
"I feel like it's very mermaid-y," Cassie said. "I didn't realize how much detail was on this dress and I like the feathers underneath. The bracelets are really, really heavy too — a.k.a. good quality."
After jumping in the elevator, Cassie met her date, Ryan Leslie, who was waiting for her in the lobby with a camera crew in tow. With the hours of prep time behind her, she finally breathed a sigh of relief.
"I feel amazing," she said, looking over her final ensemble. "Does anyone have any gum?"
For everything we've got on the 2006 VMAs, vma.mtv.com.