February 4, 2006
Fresh I.E. gets ready for the Grammys
Local hip-hop star & family get glammed up to head for the red carpet
By LINDSEY WARD -- Winnipeg Sun

It's not every day a Winnipeg family packs up and heads to Hollywood to walk the red carpet with the likes of Madonna, Kanye West and Mariah Carey.

Then again, it's not every day a Winnipeg musician receives a second Grammy Award nomination -- as local gospel rapper Rob (Fresh I.E.) Wilson did for his latest CD, Truth is Fallin' in Tha Streetz.

Wilson took wife Sheila North Wilson with him to the 2003 Grammys, where he was nominated for earlier release Red Letterz. This time, his teenage stepchildren Trisha North, 16, and Sonny Richard, 14 are on board too, heading down to L.A. for Wednesday's ceremony.

We know Beyonce is head-to-toe in seaweed right now -- but what does it take for a local family of four to get all spiffed up?

Apparently a lot.

And after two weeks of following the Grammy-bound troupe's primping path, the Sun realized Hollywood glam don't come easy.

JAN. 25 / 14 DAYS

Until The Grammys

- LOCATION: Cake Clothing, 4 p.m.

- MISSION: Find "something cool" for Trisha to work the red carpet in.

"I feel shy," is the first thing Trisha says when she baby-steps out of the fitting room, her arms crossed over her first try-on: A striking bronze, calf-length gown.

Can't blame her. As she stands in front of Cake's giant three-way mirror, she has 10 eyes on her -- not to mention two hands, as shop owner Rebecca McCormack adjusts the frock accordingly.

The remaining peeperazzi include mom Sheila and friend Chantal, along with a Sun reporter and photographer. Everyone agrees the dress is gorgeous, especially against North's tan skin.

But we doubt even Gwen Stefani settles on the first getup some chic designer puts her in -- so back to the dressing room she goes.

The next three contenders are a cream strapless number with gold embellishments (too much like drapes), a blindingly red Marilyn Monroe piece (too dangerous if it's windy) and a so-so little black dress ("I don't want to wear black though," Trisha says).

Dress No. 5 barely passes the spin test, No. 6 is a firm "no," and Trisha would rather salsa on Dancing With the Stars than sashay down the carpet in No. 7. Mom digs No. 8, but she'd like to see it on with shoes that fit, since the store's shoes are too tiny. "You've got boxer feet," she tells Trisha, who's usually throwing punches after school instead of dress shopping.

Less than an hour later, Trisha gives frock No. 1 another whirl and, of course, realizes the low-cut Grecian-inspired beauty is The One. The decision is finalized after McCormack jokes that one of The Bachelor: Paris contestants wore it on a recent episode.

"It's perfect," Trisha says. "It fits nicely."

But is "perfect" enough to give her red carpet competition a run for their millions?

"Maybe," she says. "I don't know ... they're celebrities."

JAN. 30 / 9 DAYS TO GO

- LOCATION: Aldo Formals and Tailors, 4:15 p.m.

- MISSION: Make sure Fresh I.E.'s suit is F-I-N-E fine.

Rush-hour traffic made him 15 minutes late for his 4 p.m. fitting, but Rob strolls into the shop as cool and calm as you'd expect the man of the hour to be.

That doesn't last long, though.

Aldo owner Ray Lozano immediately has Rob trading his jeans and sweatshirt for a Hollywood-worthy suit. Meanwhile, a three-person documentary crew led by local freelance filmmaker Leona Krahn stands by on the other side of the fitting room door. Krahn is following Rob's every move for her upcoming doc on his journey from thug life to Grammy nominee.

Five minutes later, Rob emerges in a chic black suit with flaming -- and we mean flaming -- hot fuchsia accents.

Much like his step-daughter did earlier, he stands coyly in front of the three-way while Lozano adds the icing to his red carpet look: A matching scarf and ultra-suave fedora.

"He showed me this hot pink look," Rob says of Lozano, the man behind the arresting lavender ensemble the rapper wore at last year's Juno Awards.

"I wanted something to stand out this year, you know what I mean? It's like a once in a -- well, twice in a lifetime opportunity," he laughs. "You wanna blend in with all the big stars wearing their $50,000 dresses."

Lozano agrees.

"You want cool stuff and something a little different from the rest," he says. "He's a stylish fellow. He always likes to be different from the rest."

JAN. 31 / 8 DAYS TO GO

- LOCATION: Swank Boutique, 11:20 a.m.

- MISSION: Find Sheila an outfit that will wow the paparazzi.

The wife of a Grammy-nominated rapper doesn't mess around when it comes to making sure she looks absolutely fab on the big day.

That's why Sheila enlists style guru Anthony Polvorosa to hone her look.

"I'm seeing really glamourous," says Polvorosa as he rifles through Swank's racks at warp speed. He knows from glamour -- the owner of local image consulting company Provici, his client list has included names like R&B singer Brian McKnight and Ford Models founder Eileen Ford.

While Polvorosa defines what he's after -- "It's texture mixing, it's shine versus matte. Very soft and flowy" -- Sheila and Trisha scan nearby racks.

"The buildup's starting to get busy now," Sheila says, adding their invites for the Grammys just arrived in the mail. "Now that it's a week away, the pressure is building to get things done."

Seconds later, Polvorosa has whisked her into the fitting room with an armful of dresses. Trisha settles on a bench outside to wait.

"It doesn't seem like it's really here yet," she says, adding she'll "get really excited at the airport."

But when she gets to L.A., it'll be another story. "I want to see all the stars and I want to sight-see. It's just the whole experience. I've never been anywhere like that."

Is there any particular hottie she's dying to see? "Massari. He's gorgeous. I'm gonna run up to him."

That oughta make her friends jealous -- not that Trisha's been flaunting her good fortune.

"I haven't told many people from school," she confesses. "Everybody I tell, they want pictures."

Meanwhile, after handing Sheila her fourth or fifth frock through the dressing room door, Polvorosa spills the secret to a haute red carpet getup.

"I think the essential thing is the fit," he says. "And I think a little bit of texture mixing is always good for the camera.

"Scarves are your best friend," he adds. "They add that sexiness and slim you out. They even just feel sexy on because of the texture."

Sheila proves his point when she models a raven-hued dress with matching silk shawl. "This silhouette is very flattering," Polvorosa gushes.

But not quite as stunning as the next hopeful: a black, floor-skimming halter-neck with a little lace for a lot of va-va-voom -- much different from the powder blue gown she wore to the 2003 Grammys.

"It's my favourite," Sheila says.

And the award goes to ... the black lacy number and matching scarf. Cameras please!

FEB. 1 / 7 DAYS TO GO

- LOCATION: Strada Personal Spa, 1 p.m.

- MISSION: Savour downtime while getting fresh-faced glow.

In one week, Sheila and Trisha will be scurrying around L.A. from one star-studded event to the next.

It can't get much better than that -- but getting personalized facials at Strada comes pretty close.

"When I woke up this morning, my mind was racing. By the time I got here, I was really stressed. Now I feel like I'm a million miles away from everything," says Sheila. She and Trisha -- lying on a cot several feet away -- enjoy the oasis of calm as estheticians Mary Vongnarath and Patricia Farmer refine their skin.

Sheila feels even better knowing she's checked off a few more essentials on her Grammy To-Do list.

"We got our hotel today," she says. She also accomplished the difficult task of finding an outfit for 14-year-old son, Sonny -- a football player who likes to play it casual.

"We decided to just get him a suit jacket at Aldo's with a black shirt," she says, adding he'll complete the look with jeans and runners.

As Sheila luxuriates in a smooth facial mask applied by Vongnarath (who says it "gives her the glow that she needs for the red carpet"), she talks about another important call.

"I phoned my band this morning -- my reserve -- to tell them about what's going on. They're really excited."

Sheila lived on Bunibonibee Cree Nation until 1993, when she moved to the city to pursue a broadcasting career. "All the good things that happen to us, I think of my reserve and I try to do things that encourage them. I always have them in my mind when I'm doing things, to make sure they know they can do it, too ... I'm glad they have a connection to the modern world. It's hard to get out. I used to imagine doing stuff like this when I was there -- and now I am."

Sheila says her first trek to the Grammys helped motivate her and led to her current career in TV journalism, and she wants her kids to benefit this time.

"I hope our kids are inspired to try what they want to do."

FEB. 2 / 6 DAYS TO GO

- LOCATION: Home, 6:30 p.m.

- MISSION: Family dress rehearsal.

Gathering for a photo is probably the last thing this family wants to do, considering they have less than a week to prep for the big day.

But, hey, part of going to the Grammys is knowing when to work it for the cameras. So they agree to doll up in their carpet gear and say "cheese" for a Sun photographer.

Sheila and Trisha spent the day getting their coifs perfected at First Impressions Hair & Skin team, Rob's fedora is slanted exactly as he likes it, and Sonny's rocker glare is dead-on.

Yep, they're ready for their closeup. And, aside from some minor details, for the Grammys, too.

"I think Rob looks smashing. He's so brave to wear pink," Sheila says. "And Trisha -- we're going to have to put a paper bag over her or something!"

For a gang that's been on the go for weeks, they seem relaxed now that the finish line is in sight. Rob credits their pals Trish Mann, Judith Dixon and Avante Records' management for carrying much of the pre-Grammy load.

"They've been doing a lot for us non-stop, around the clock for free," he says.

As the shoot wraps, we ask for his last thoughts on the surreal situation. Not surprisingly, he brings it back down to earth. Rob says he hopes people are inspired to pursue their dreams when they see the good things that have happened to him and his family.

"That's what most important to us ... that we bring glory to God and to us."

With that attitude, he can't lose, no matter what happens at the Grammys on Wednesday.