Manifest Destiny

With a hot R&B album and a string of hits, Destiny's Child enjoys overwhelming success coast to coast.

September 19, 2000|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

In an airy mall in suburban Southern Maryland, a mutiny almost breaks out Saturday afternoon.

As teen-age girls everywhere tend to do, the three young and sexy members of the R&B group Destiny's Child are late. It's 2:30 p.m., the scheduled time for an autograph session with fans at St. Charles Town Center in Waldorf. Almost 3,000 people have converged upon the mall, and the crowd is jostling, pushing aside small children to get better views and chanting, "We want Destiny's Child! We want Destiny's Child!"

But pandemonium doesn't fully occur until three tall, lithe beauties with large radiant eyes and dazzling smiles confidently stride onto a small stage an hour late, gathering deep-red roses from fans along the way. For a moment, Beyonce (rhymes with fiance) Knowles, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams seem a tad overwhelmed, looking at the thousands of screaming, adoring fans all around them.

Fame and the fans that come with it sometimes still surprise the girls who are the current darlings of up-tempo R&B with such infectious hits as "Jumpin, Jumpin," which is No. 1 on the dance charts. Their sass-filled songs laying down the law for errant boyfriends "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Say My Name," both of which have hit #1 within the past year, have become anthems for female empowerment. They just released their latest single, "Independent Woman," which will be the theme song of the upcoming "Charlie's Angels" movie and the name of their next album. Their sophomore album, "The Writing's on the Wall," has sold more than 6 million records in the United States and 2 million more worldwide since its July 1999 release. And the group currently is on a whirlwind U.S. tour with pop princess Christina Aguilera that stopped in at Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday night.

Not bad for some teen-agers from Houston who just 10 years ago were pony-tailed 9-year-old girlfriends watching videos of the Supremes.

"You dream of this," says Rowland, 19, nibbling on a butter cookie after the almost two-hour autograph session ends. "But you never dream that you'll have this mall right here sold out and another mall in Ohio sold out. I was talking to my best friend and she was like, `Do you know how big you guys are?' and I'm like, `No, I don't wanna know. I just wanna keep a level head.'"

In the past year, Rowland and lead singer Knowles, 19, have had to work especially hard to keep level-headed. Destiny's Child has struggled with the disputes and departures that have ruined other successful groups, and its members have had a harsh lesson - Real Life 101.

In December, two original members of Destiny's Child, LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson, were abruptly dropped after they tried to fire Knowles' father as their manager. Luckett and Roberson filed suit against the group and Mathew Knowles, accusing him of "greed, insistence on control, self-dealing and promotion of his daughter's interests at [their] expense."

Mathew Knowles promptly recruited two new girls for the group, Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin. And just when it seemed that Destiny's Child was at a stable point, Franklin was ousted in July for missing appearances.

"Who woulda thought that it would be three members now, and Michelle would be a part of it?" Beyonce Knowles says. "But we can almost guarantee that this is Destiny's Child. We don't need another member. Our vibe is really strong and it's really cool because now there's no chaos."

That vibe first began 14 years ago in a kindergarten in Houston, when the pint-sized 5-year-old Beyonce Knowles clambered onto stage for a talent show and belted out "Home" from "The Wiz."

"She was a very quiet kid, but when she got on that stage, she was a different personality," Mathew Knowles says from a car phone in Philadelphia. "My wife and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and said, `Is that our daughter?'"

The Knowleses signed up Beyonce for voice lessons a year later and began entering her in local talent shows and pageants. When she was 9, Mathew Knowles teamed her up with three other girls to be a "young En Vogue." When the group lost its first talent show, Knowles restructured it, enlisting Rowland and Roberson, who went to school with his daughter, and Luckett, whom he recruited through auditions.

It was around this time that Teresa LeBarbera Whites, now vice president of A&R at Columbia Records, first met the girls. Then a talent scout, Whites went to Houston to see the 9-year-old girls sing in a community center theater.

"I just thought they were the cutest little girls, and you knew then that Beyonce was special; she just had something," Whites says. `They had beautiful voices, they were full of energy, and they sang their hearts out and danced their little behinds off. I always believed they would be stars."

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