Celebrity

Queen B - R&B's royal Dreamgirl


Queen B
Elio Iannacci talks to R&B’s royal Dreamgirl Beyonce Knowles
Photography by Michael Williams

What does it take to be Beyoncé Knowles? If you want to get mathematical about it: nine Grammy awards before the age of 25, 21 chart hits, four blockbuster films, one L’Oréal spokesmodel gig, one family-run fashion house and more than 50 million albums sold worldwide. So besides the impressive digits, what in the name of “Jumpin’, Jumpin’ ” does it take to be Beyoncé Knowles?

It takes ferocity – and Beyoncé is the first to admit she comes from a long line of determined women. One glimpse of Knowles’ performance at the 2005 Kennedy Center Tribute in New York’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts confirms it (check it out on youtube.com). “When I think of inspiration,” she announced at the event, “I think of the two Tinas in my life. That’s my mother, Tina, and, of course, the amazing Tina Turner. Never in my life have I seen a woman so powerful, so fearless, so fabulous.” Moments later, decked out in Bob Mackie regalia, Beyoncé managed not only to mimic Turner’s “rolling, rolling” bushfire sensuality by singing “Proud Mary” – she eclipsed it.
Fast-forward to August of this year and Beyoncé is busy working the camera during Flare’s cover shoot in New York’s fashionable Pier 59 studios. A hip-hopified version of Diana Ross’s “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” plays on the speakers and, after the first group of shots are taken, an excited on-set assistant cries, “Beautilicious!” Beyoncé is singing along while the flashes are flashing and her curvy, fiercely fit 5’6” frame and gorgeous brown eyes enchant the room. Yet, the star’s attention doesn’t swerve to the countless racks of designer gowns, the row of watch-tapping publicists or even her shihtzu, Munchie, who growls for a box of Honey Nut Cheerios (her favourite snack) stowed behind a pair of Manolos. It’s Diana Ross’s voice that keeps Beyoncé entranced.

It’s a voice that Knowles insists in our interview hours later “is partly why we are all here in the first place.” Her latest film, Dreamgirls, a fictionalized, loosely based biopic on Diana Ross’s life (and alleged spotlight-stealing rise with the all-female trio The Supremes) will be in theatres Christmas Day.

 

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Adapted from its origins as an ’80s Broadway musical, the film version of Dreamgirls also follows the trajectory of an R&B girl group called The Dreams. Set in the ’60s and ’70s, the film features Beyoncé as Deena, who apparently – how shall we put this? – is said to have resembled Ms. Ross in her most hey-est of days. Mounds of glamour, heaps of catfights and more star-struck ambition than you can shake a feather boa at – the film is something Beyoncé is eager to talk about since she feels “it was the role of a lifetime.”

“Diana was my inspiration for Dreamgirls. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have had the motivation to play the part,” she explains. “I’ve met her and love her, but I also had a chance to study old tapes of all the performances and interviews she’s done from the ’60s. She is extremely talented.”

As well as studying Ross’s hand gestures, eyelash flicks, “baby, babys” and back sways, Beyoncé insists it was imperative to get into the glitter of it all by dressing for the part. “Everything about my character was really polished, but not everything was premeditated. The Dreams were laaadies,” she laughs. “It’s easier to get into character when you have three pairs of lashes on, your hair takes four hours and your shoes match everything you are wearing. It was like a transformation. Once you put that big wig on, it’s like your crown to be this queen.”

 

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Critics of all pens and poisons have already been shrewdly painting Beyoncé as an all-too-perfect cast choice for Deena since the rise of Beyoncé’s own girl group, Destiny’s Child, has been rumoured to have had its fair share of Dreamgirl-ish drama. With the group changing from a quartet in the late 1990s to a trio in 2000 (the makeup of Destiny’s Child was reconfigured a total of three times), the tabloid press certainly had a lot to snipe about. Dreamgirls reviews are expected to inspire a few more real-life comparisons between Beyoncé, Ross (who also had frequent membership issues with her Supremes) and even Deena (who is written as a Dream singer who becomes a diva nightmare). The assumption that Beyoncé stepped on one too many weaves just to “make it on her own” is, in Beyoncé’s mind, just sour speculation. According to her, the film is definitely not art imitating life, and history is not repeating.

“Destiny’s Child’s relationship is really different from The Supremes’,” says Beyoncé. “Diana and I have different personalities. I was always the person who wrote the records and produced them. I didn’t have someone who found songs for me. And Destiny’s Child didn’t come from the projects in Detroit – we came from [Houston’s] middle class. I went to private school and I had support from my family. We didn’t have to go to charm school, either.

“Things are more organic now,” she says. “I can speak, sing, write and record in slang and it’s accepted. Back then, it wasn’t. In the ’60s, it was difficult since there were no black crossover artists. Back then, I wouldn’t be able to put my feet up on this couch like I am,” she giggles, extending her hand in Vanna White-like fashion to her Louboutin shoes. “It’s a different time now.”

To read the whole article, pick up your December issue of FLARE today.
Click here to watch a clip of Dreamgirls.

 

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