Beyonce Spreads the Gospel

Say her name, Beyoncé . So very vogue in Hollywood think Cher, Madonna the heart of super-successful R&B trio Destiny's Child has transformed her considerable talents into an icon of personality, and therefore no longer requires a surname. She currently has a number-one single and solo album and a growing film resume following her adorable turn as '70s spitfire Foxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers' Goldmember with a more demure role as a gospel-singing single mom in The Fighting Temptations, opposite Cuba Gooding Jr.

"I wanted to play someone less glamorous that's actually how I got involved," says the 22-year-old Houston native. "I told my agent, in the next movie I don't want to have on makeup. I want to be just regular. And I want to have real issues. I don't want to be Goody Two Shoes, perfect, whatever. I want to have problems like everyone else, like every woman. I want to do darker films, where I can be more vulnerable."

Beyoncé seems somehow unspoiled by her sensational coming-of-age (she began her musical career at age seven, with an early incarnation of Destiny's Child; she was 15 when the group released its first single). The current trio (Beyoncé; her cousin, Kelly Rowland; and Michelle Williams) was nurtured to stardom by Matthew Knowles -- Beyonce's father and Kelly's legal guardian -- and as the founding member and chief songwriter, Beyoncé was the first African American woman to win ASCAP's award for Pop Songwriter of the Year -- and the second woman ever -- to receive that honor.

In spite of numerous catty comparisons, she is no J. Lo: While she gracefully glides from song to screen, is involved in a high-profile love affair (with rapper Jay-Z) and is launching her own clothing line, Beyoncé is infinitely approachable and genuinely nice. She attributes her solid values to her upbringing -- and the family affair of Destiny's Child (her mom came up with the name).

"I pray for my family and I pray that God surrounds me with people who are supposed to be around me. And I pray that anyone who's not good for me is weeded out of my life. And I pray to stay humble and to stay grounded and to keep people around me who keep me focused and keep me knowledgeable about Him because it's very, very easy to lose touch with that," she says.

Halting a moment to choke down a persistent cough ("all these planes," she manages as she clears her throat), Beyoncé's distinctive and dreamy down-home drawl is melodic even as she reveals the grind behind all the glitter.

"In the beginning it was really glamorous -- but it's work. You don't realize when you see the person on television that they probably did a hundred other interviews that day and they didn't feel like talking. Even doing the photo shoots, you're in the stilettos with blisters on your feet, it's blowing wind and you're trying breathe. And your eyes are watering up but you have to try to look sexy -- it's not glamorous, it's a job."

The Fighting Temptations, about a New York advertising executive (Gooding) who travels to a small Southern town to collect an inheritance but finds he must create a gospel choir and lead it to success before he can collect, was in many ways a dream job for Beyoncé .

"It was strictly about singing, which was refreshing and wonderful for me," says Beyoncé . "I could just stand there and really sing and make whatever kind of faces I made and not have to worry about routines, whatever. And I think, vocally, you can really hear some of the things you can't hear in R&B music, you can hear in this movie."

Before meeting costar Gooding, she says, "I was nervous because he's great and he's so experienced... But everything went really well and he was really personable and he was very funny and just a people person and made me feel comfortable. And by the end, it was just like a family; it really felt like a choir."

Featured in the movie are legendary guardians of gospel including Melba Moore, Ann Nesby, Shirley Caesar, the O-Jays which was a thrill for the gifted ingenue.

"I grew up listening to Ann Nesby and Shirley Caesar, and they have influenced so many of the people who I like. It was great to be able to do a movie with them. Even to do some of the traditional gospel songs that I would never really get a chance to do. It's always just great to be around so many great singers. Angie Stone soulful. Melba Moore soulful. It was just being around all that soul, I was just like, Whew!"

Beyoncé and Destiny's Child, naturally, are featured on The Fighting Temptations soundtrack. "[It's] so beautiful because it's contemporary gospel, it's inspirational songs. And the power of this movie I think is the music," she says. "It's so strong and so uplifting and it heals you. You go into the movie theater and you come out happy because you feel like you've just had a breath of fresh air."

Which has been the basic reaction of the record-buying public to Beyoncé 's first solo album, Dangerously in Love, which she coproduced with her father and which features an impressive array of musical collaborators, including Jay-Z on the sexy first single, "Crazy in Love."

"Everything that I do, if it's a movie, it's my album, it's Destiny's Child, whatever, I give 100 percent," says Beyoncé , and her foray into fashion with her mom is no different. "I'm very picky about everything I do, because I don't want to rush anything. [With the clothing line] I want to make sure I have the right quality of designers who are collaborating with me. I want to make sure I'm teaming up with the right people. So I haven't made a decision yet who we're going to link up with, but we're sketching up things and still in that beginning stage. We were hoping for Christmas, but I don't know if that's going to happen."

Ambitious, yes, but Beyoncé 's confidence comes across more like charming and childlike enthusiasm than diva daring.

"I want to do a good musical like Chicago or Moulin Rouge," she says matter-of-factly. "Years from now I want to win an Oscar and a Tony Award. I want to do Broadway, a movie a year, and I want to do Destiny's Child, Beyoncéalternating albums, every year."

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