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August 04, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

In just months, this mono-monikered 19-year-old has gone from model/student to a model of overnight success. Last year, the Connecticut native was preparing to attend New York’s Pace University while posing for the likes of Adidas, until a duet she recorded with her friend, producer Ryan Leslie, put all that on hold. ”It was just a demo,” Cassie explains of ”Kiss Me,” a song she made as a gift for her mother’s birthday. ”But it ended up getting played for Tommy Mottola, and that’s how I got my management contract.” She quickly signed with Sean Combs’ Bad Boy label, where the R&B single ”Me & U” was born. The breathy, hypnotic track has swiftly climbed to No. 3 on Billboard‘s Hot 100. Now busy filming the video for her self-titled debut’s second single, ”Long Way 2 Go” (”It has a fun, summery feel to it”), Cassie is also eyeing Hollywood. ”I just want to be able to branch out,” says the mixed-race beauty, who calls Janet Jackson her own model. ”She shouted me out on L.A. radio,” Cassie gushes. ”I know I will probably, like, die when I meet her.”

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