"Today" host Katie Couric profiles Beyonce in this week's "Backstage Pass."
NBC News
updated 11/21/2003 12:32:16 AM ET 2003-11-21T05:32:16

You only have to “say her name,” Beyonce, to recognize she’s one of the biggest talents around, as the sultry lead singer of “Destiny’s Child” or the sexy sidekick to Austin Powers. Now it seems she’s destined for superstardom as she flies solo for the first time. Her new release is already a smash success, a soulful record that, like Beyonce herself, is laced with grace notes. NBC’s Katie Couric caught up with Beyonce at home in Houston, where one thing became very clear: her high-flying career is all in the family.

In the category of really tough gigs, Sunday brunch with Beyonce would definitely not qualify. Beyonce’s mom sure tickled my taste buds with her authentic creole cuisine. And when I was down south for a down-home chat with the Knowles family, I found out that for them, life’s not only spicy, it’s pretty sweet.

Beyonce: “Celebrity is, it’s just, sometimes it’s not real, you know? That’s why I’m so lucky I have my family around me to let me always know what’s real and what’s not.”

But celebrity is the family business. Take Beyonce, the sassy center of the super-group Destiny’s Child. She’s now on the verge of solo superstardom with the release of “Dangerously in Love,” currently the number one CD in the country. Dad’s her manager and Mom’s her stylist. Sister Solange is an up and coming singer herself, and even Kelly Rowland, another third of the “Destiny’s Child” trio, has lived with the Knowles family for more than a decade.

Kelly: “I was supposed to come over and stay over the house for one summer. But one summer turned into 11 years.” [laughter]

But at 21, as she prepares to leave the nest and step out on her own, Beyonce makes it clear that it’s not by coincidence she’s where she is. It’s, well, destiny.

Beyonce: “I’ve been born to do this. I want to be a triple threat, you know? I’m able to dance, sing, act, and I also write and produce. And that’s very rare. They want to say it’s because of the sexy clothes or it’s because whatever else. No, it’s because I’m talented. And I just want to be acknowledged for that.”

Still, the path to diva-dom didn’t necessarily seem paved from birth. At least, not to her parents, Mathew and Tina.

Katie Couric: “Beyonce was kind of a shy and awkward?”

Tina: “Yes.”

Couric: “And didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. And all that. Was that how she was as the young girl pretty much?”

Mathew: “Yeah. Pretty much. And also, I don’t think you had a lot of friends either when you were growing up in school.”

Beyonce: [laughter]

Couric: “You were pathetic!” [laughter]

But all that changed the time she was nine. She had discovered the joy of song and was already raising the roof of their suburban Houston home.

Beyonce: “No one wanted to come to our house because we literally would make stages out of whatever we could find. Stacking up stuff. Tore up all the furniture. Had the boom box sky high. And all of the company would have to sit and watch our shows. And we would make them buy tickets. And they were like $5. So we had a lot of nerve.” [laughter]

And unabashed confidence. Beyonce was only 10 when she put together her first group, “Girls Tyme.” But they were a little ahead of their time when they got their big break on “star Search.”

Couric: “It was a little too hip-hop wasn’t it?”

Beyonce: “Yeah. And we were—”

Couric: “Before people really knew what hip-hop was.”

Tina: “Hip-hop was, yeah.”

Matthew: “It was the first time.”

Beyonce: “We were the first people to ever rap on ‘Star Search.’”

Matthew: “It was an interesting concept.” [laughter]

The judges didn’t think so.

Beyonce: “We were devastated. But we needed a little work back then. So it was a reason that we lost.”

“Girls Tyme” knew it was time for a change, and with renewed determination, Beyonce and her soul sisters set their sights on a record deal. And Mathew Knowles sacrificed his six-figure salary with Xerox, to be the group’s new manager.

Couric: “When you went into your boss that day and said, ‘I’m leaving. I’m going to manage my daughter’s singing career,’ did they think you were out of your mind? Here you are, an African-American male doing incredibly well in corporate America. Doesn’t happen as often as it should, as you well know. To close that door must have been pretty hard.”

Matthew: “Yeah. But, I believed in the ladies. I believed in them like I do today.”

But Mathew was one tough taskmaster. He called rehearsals boot camp, and these young troopers soon found out they weren’t on glamour detail.

Couric: “It sounds to me, Mr. Knowles, you were quite hard on the girls. Would you say that’s true?”

Matthew: “No, actually I don’t think I was hard on you guys, was I? I think we were structured.”

Whatever you call it, it worked. In 1995, they renamed themselves “Destiny’s Child.” And by the time she was 19, the group’s now three-part harmonies had earned Beyonce three Grammy’s and sold over 35 million records worldwide.

But the teenage trio’s maturation was not without some pretty severe growing pains. Two of the group’s founding members, Latoya Luckett and Latavia Roberson, quit the group. Then they sued Beyonce’s dad, claiming nepotism. They settled out of court, but some fans weren’t so forgiving.

Couric: “I guess after that there was a big Beyonce backlash if you will. A lot of people were sort of angry at you. And that was a tough time, huh?”

Beyonce: “Definitely. I look back at those times and some people may not understand but I’m actually grateful for those times. Because I learned so much about myself and I became a woman, you know. I matured so much.”

And while visiting another part of Beyonce’s home, it became clear this was a young woman with experience and achievement beyond her 21 years.

Couric: “I was thinking, Beyonce, your life would be so much better, if you could only win a few awards.”

Beyonce: [laughter] “I know.”

Couric: “Look at this place. I mean, what is this? This is an extreme vanity room, right? The Wall of Fame or whatever.”

Beyonce: “This, we call it the reflection room. We come in here and— I actually haven’t been in here in a long time.”

Couric: “You reflect on how great you are? I mean look at this!”

Beyonce: “All our accomplishments.”

Couric: “Look at this.”

Beyonce: “I know the Grammies— from the Grammies to the MTV Awards to plaques and it’s just— it’s a lot.”

And now, with her new album, she’s hoping to adorn the room with a few more. Beyonce co-wrote and co-produced some 43 tracks, and narrowed it down to 15. But writing her own material is not uncharted territory.

Couric: “You wrote ‘Survivor’ when you were going through a tough time.”

Beyonce: “Uh-huh.”

Couric: “You wrote ‘Bootylicious’ when you couldn’t stop eating. Right?”

Beyonce: “Right.”

Couric: “What are some other songs that really reflect your personal experiences?”

Beyonce: “Well, there’s a song on my album, ‘Me, Myself & I.’ And it talks about a girl who is in a relationship, and she kind of always knew in the back of her mind that this guy was wrong. And it’s kind of like a celebration of the break up, because she knows that her instincts will never disappoint her.”

Couric: “So, who was that about?”

Beyonce: “Well, that was about a time in my life when I was with a guy that was wrong!” [laughter]

But these days, there’s all kinds of speculation about whether or not she’s found Mr. Right. Rumor has it Beyonce’s even bought a house on millionaire’s row in Miami with rapper Jay-Z.

Couric: “I just want to cut to the chase, Beyonce.”

Beyonce: “It’s all right.”

Couric: “And I know you say, ‘I don’t talk about my personal life, because if I did, I wouldn’t have one.’ But can’t you just at least tell me if you have a boyfriend, for crying out loud? I’m not going to ask you if he’s a good kisser or you know what you’ve done together, anything like that. But I mean, are you dating anyone?”

Beyonce: “You already know my answer, Katie.”

Couric: “Oh, come on, Beyonce. You know, otherwise people are just gonna speculate. There are gonna be rumors—”

Beyonce: “It’s okay—”

Couric: “Why don’t you just say I’m seeing somebody and I like him or whatever. And his name is Jay-Z.”

Beyonce: “You’re very good. She’s very good, everyone!”

Apparently, not good enough. She refused to dish about her love life, preferring, instead, to shift the conversation to her budding movie career.

Her portrayal of super-spy Foxxy Cleopatra in last summer’s Austin Powers blockbuster “Goldmember,” proved just about ‘everything’ beyonce touches turns to gold.

Couric: “We happened to go into the Austin Powers archives and found the audition tape.”

Beyonce: “What?”

Couric: “Yeah.”

Beyonce: “You have the audition tape? No! Please tell me y’all not gonna play that!”

Sorry Beyonce. More embarrassing home video, courtesy of Mike Meyers.

Couric: “You were laughing a lot weren’t you?

Beyonce: “Yeah. Sometimes that happens when I’m uncomfortable.”

The beautiful and now bankable beyonce has another film due out this fall, a romantic comedy with Cuba Gooding, Jr. called “The Fighting Temptations.”

Though Beyonce’s star seems brighter than ever, she insists it doesn’t mean the writing’s on the wall for “Destiny’s Child.” They plan to release their fourth album together next year. In the meantime, she’s about to embark on her first solo world tour. But Beyonce says no matter what she does — she’ll always take home everywhere she goes.

Couric: “I know that your biggest ambition is to be a nice person, at least that’s what you told me.”

Beyonce: “Uh-huh.”

Couric: “How do you keep yourself from becoming you know the scary diva from hell?”

Beyonce: “I want to be happy and I want to be proud of what I do, and I want to love what I do. My mother keeps me grounded. My family keeps me grounded. And I just want to enjoy, you know, the fruits of my labor.”

Her next project might be a labor of love with her mom, Tina, who designs the costumes for “Destiny’s Child.” The two may soon launch a new clothing line, which could be in stores next summer.

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