It's been a rough 18 months for the pop ingenue, but Cassie's moving on toward happily ever after.
This feature originally appeared in Complex's August/September 2007 issue.
If being an overnight celebrity sounds easy, you haven’t heard Casandra “Cassie” Ventura’s story. Not so long ago, the 21-year-old Connecticut native was just your average full-time model living in New York. Then the multiculti beauty1 met producer Ryan Leslie2, and promptly bodied Tila Tequila to become the ultimate MySpace success story3, swooping down out of cyberspace with the top-charting pas de dome “Me & U.” Thanks to a titillating song and a scintillating face, Cassie attracted attention faster than you can say, “Is it racist if I say you’re exotic-looking?”
Then the fairy tale hit a speed bump. From controversial radio interviews4 to nervously lip-synched TRL and 106 & Park performances to an embarrassing and explicit leaked “Me & U” video and anemic album sales, Cassie found herself in the midst of a PR shitstorm—but she refused to bite the poison apple. She forged ahead, working on her untitled sophomore album, starring as Kanye West’s better half in his video for “Stronger,” and auditioning for several movie roles. Jealous stepsisters, wake up: The beauty is done sleeping.
Your career took off kinda fast. How much have things changed for you in the last year?
The last time around was just a hazy experience. I didn’t really know what was going on. I barely even knew that albums had concepts and a story, and that’s what sells records. I was a regular girl with a hot single. I think a lot of people missed who I am.
Was there ever a point you felt overwhelmed?
People ask you the same questions over and over that [have] nothing to do with the music or me being an artist, whether it’s the performances or “Why did you do that [YouTube] video?” I hit a wall. So I started to get cheesy and read The Secret. [Laughs.]
Okay, Oprah. Why do you think people were hating so much?
Maybe it’s because it felt like I took it for granted and that I didn’t work hard enough. I didn’t know how powerful it was to have that big of a single. That’s why I’m going back with vocal coaches and acting coaches so that if it doesn’t work out a second time, at least I can say I put 110 percent into it. People still have stuff to say. They call me “D-list,” “America’s Favorite Non-Singer”—or they say, “She needs to go back to modeling.” Oh, I’ve heard it all. [Laughs.]
They call me 'America's Favorite Non-Singer.'
So there’s no truth to the rumors that you were involved with Diddy or your producer Ryan Leslie…
They have no root. Somebody just starts it. “Cassie’s pregnant with somebody’s baby.” Sites saying they heard from a specific source. [Laughs.] I read this thing where Beyoncé’s like, “I haven’t looked online in seven years to read about myself. That’s how I keep going. Nothing can pull me back into that matrix.” That’s a good situation. But for me, that’s where I connected first, so I can’t leave that behind. I don’t read celebrity blogs, but I like Perez Hilton when I do.
Are you dating now?
No. It’s hard to commit—well, not commit. I think it’s just more of me wanting to do my own thing and not answer to anybody. Especially if I had a boyfriend who was outside the industry and wouldn’t understand me just picking up and leaving. I don’t even call my mom to tell her I’m going out of the country sometimes.
When’s the last time you actually liked someone?
It was months ago. I always have crushes on people. I don’t know. [Laughs.] You’re making me feel awkward.
Would you ever date a rapper?
A rapper? I don’t know. I’d date Snoop. [Laughs.] He’s my favorite rapper.
There was a lot of speculation about“Me & U.” What was that song about?
I didn’t write it. Ryan wrote it. Because I have a young fan base, what upset me was that it’s like, “Damn, I have little girls and boys singing this song.” But I didn’t take it the same way everyone else did. It’s about a special moment, whatever you want it to be. It could be right before you kiss. It’s when it’s just you and the person.
What upset me is that it's like, 'Damn, I have little girls and boys singing this song.'
But you have to know the YouTube video that Little X directed made it look like it was about going down on a guy.
Because that’s how Little X interpreted it. That wasn’t my treatment—and he didn’t write one either. We just shot as we went along. I like him as a person and he’s a great guy, but I was kind of upset that it even got leaked. I was like, “Who did that? It had to be one of your people because I didn’t have it.” But we’re definitely cool now.
You caught a lot of criticism for your live performances.
I don’t think I should have done those shows. But I didn’t know I had a choice. I would sit in rehearsals and sing full songs a cappella. I wasn’t Beyoncé, but I wasn’t fucking up. Then I got out there and was like, “Oh my God, millions of people are watching me right now. I have stage fright.” Before the BET performance, I remember being backstage with Gwen Niles, the VP from my label, and I was like, “I’m gonna shit myself. I can’t do this. Don’t make me go out there.”
I was surprised to read that the infamous TRL appearance was only your seventh live show ever.
That’s what’s funny about it, though. I took it really seriously and I tried and went through rehearsals, but I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know what I was doing at all.
There’s certain things singers are known for. With you, a lot of times the first thing that people mention is you’re really hot. Does that bother you?
No. At least I have something. [Laughs.] I hope eventually people find something about me talent-wise that they can associate me with. Maybe after the second time around. That would make me really happy.
WATCH CASSIE'S BEHIND-THE-SCENES VIDEO:
1. Her father is Filipino, and her mother is Mexican/African-American/West Indian. Dinner at her house!
2. The Harvard grad had already produced for Beyonce, New Edition, and Britney Spears. Not that it was hard to be the smartest person in the room during any of those studio sessions.
3. Cassie is like the Patron Gold to Tila Tequila's Cuervo, riding 21 million profile views to two albums. And you already know from "Me & U" that she can eat the worm. Zing!
4. Last August, Cassie went on New York's Hot 97 and exposed Omarion and Bow Wow for approaching her through third parties. What, they're too good to step face to ... knee?
Styling by Marni Senofonte for MargaretMaldonado.com; Hair and makeup by Cesar Ramirez for KenBarboza.com; Prop styling by Andrea Huelse
Cover, Second, Fifth, and Ninth Image: T-shirt by Vince; bikini by D&G
First and Eleventh Image: Bra by DSquared2; panties by D&G; tank top by James Perse
Third Image: Bikini by D&G; sneakers by Converse
Fourth Image: Shorts by D&G; bikini by Omo Norma Kamali; sunglasses by Marc Jacobs; shoes by Lanvin