— by James Montgomery, with additional reporting by Matt Paco
Okay, let's get this part out of the way at the start: Cassie is gorgeous.
That fact has been both a burden and a boon to the 19-year-old Connecticut native — and one that made her lots of cash in the past, when she modeled for Delia's, Abercrombie & Fitch and Adidas. But now, as she begins her fledgling career as an R&B diva, she's been forced to prove that she's more than just another pretty face. Cassie wants doubters to know that she's for real.
And luckily, she's not lacking in the confidence department.
"I signed with Wilhelmina [modeling agency] when I was 14, and I knew that for me, modeling was just a stepping stone," she said. "You can't be a model your whole life. People don't realize how much I've put into singing. Even before the deal, I danced and I was taking classes. Being the whole package is just so much work — and I love it."
The list of Cassie believers grows longer by the day. Just check her nearly four million profile views on MySpace, which have made her a Top Artist on the site's Indie chart (ahead of the Ying Yang Twins, Panic! At the Disco and Paul Wall). She's got the support of über-record exec Tommy Mottola (who signed her to a management deal) and Sean "Diddy" Combs (who inked her to his Bad Boy label). And she owes all that success to just one chance meeting with producer Ryan Leslie, who has worked with everyone from Beyoncé to Britney.
"I met Ryan at a club when he was with Usher," Cassie recalled. "We hit it off, and before we knew it, we were recording a song called 'Kiss Me,' for my mom's birthday. She had asked us to record it, and it's a duet [with Leslie] because I couldn't finish it [alone]."
The song ended up in Mottola's hands, who took one listen and decided Cassie was for real (and he should know — after all, he did shepherd the careers of Mariah Carey and J. Lo). Within weeks, Leslie and Cassie were back in the studio, working on a song called "Me & U," which would turn out to be much bigger than they could have anticipated.
" 'Me & U' was just posted on my MySpace page, and it exploded," Cassie explained. "All of a sudden, it started getting spins at clubs. Without MySpace none of this would've happened. I mean, Puffy first heard 'Me & U' at I think, Bungalow 8, or something like that, in New York, and he came calling pretty soon after that."
As the song continues to climb Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart — as of Thursday (June 1) it's at #6 — Cassie is busy putting the finishing touches on her Bad Boy debut (tentatively due in August). And she's clearly enjoying every moment of her newfound fame. But despite all the excitement, does she ever miss the glamorous life of catalog modeling?
"Oh, not at all — singing and dancing are all I've ever wanted to do," she laughed. "I always wanted to be a celebrity. I always wanted to be a star, so I was singing, performing, dancing for everybody that came over my house. I think you're born with it. You can learn how to perform and become something, but at the end of the day it's either in you already or it's not."
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