Child of Fate

The performance is almost flawless -- a real stadium crowd pleaser. But in a small venue like Cody's, signs of tension are evident at first, despite the show's tight choreography, pulsing R&B grooves and seamless harmonies. It seems the time is now for Destiny's Child. Though its members are amazingly young, they know what's at stake. And in the first few minutes, it shows.

More than any other act in Houston right now, Destiny's Child defines teen stardom. Just finishing up a whirlwind of international appearances to support their oft-postponed, self-titled Columbia debut, the group's four beaming, strikingly attractive members range in age from 15 to 16, dress like full-grown women and sing like angels. This late-February performance at Cody's is part of a well-orchestrated promotional tour that Columbia calls Young Soul Power Revue. Billed as a lineup of the label's "youngest and most dynamic" artists, the package also includes 11-year-old vocalist Kimberly Scott, Kenny Lattimore, John Forte and Boyz II Men wannabes Jagged Edge.

Everyone at Cody's tonight -- about 350 industry insiders, friends and well-wishers -- is here to acknowledge the girls' swift success. And once the quartet tensely finishes their opening number, the teasing soul hit "No, No, No," the pressure seems to melt from their faces. Their wide smiles are the indicator light alerting everyone present that from here on out, Destiny's Child is comfortable doing what it's doing. On-stage, the four girls are busting moves they've known for years. They've spent half their lives training for this moment.

LeToya Luckett, Beyonce Knowles, LaTavia Roberson and Kelly Rowland were still in grade school when they were thrown together by various opportunistic managers. And while the girls didn't know each other before then, each already had an agent, a manager and parents who spurred them on. LaTavia and Beyonce met via agency-arranged vocal tryouts; LeToya and Kelly were recruited soon thereafter. A Star Search appearance gave the girls their first taste of national recognition; locally, they cut their teeth performing at the Juneteenth Festival, the Black Expo and other such events. It was a performance at the Black Expo that led to Destiny's Child signing with major label Elektra. And when that contract fizzled, Columbia was waiting in the wings.

Destiny's Child is managed with a disciplined hand by Matthew Knowles, Beyonce's father. "That's an advantage we have, because we know that he's not going to screw us," Beyonce states plainly.

Early on, Knowles came up with the idea of "summer camp" -- a sort of entertainment boot camp in which the girls would spend their vacation on a strict, homebound schedule. Days usually began with a three-mile jog, followed by roughly eight hours of practice. "It was drama," Kelly admits. "The other kids are at AstroWorld; we're at home in the bathtub, making a swimming pool. That camp whipped us into shape."

The girls' highly regimented lifestyle has continued into the present. A typical day not spent performing in public offers a full plate of group-related activities: a two-hour morning rehearsal, aerobics, drills in interview technique and other image-honing activity. More often than not, Saturday is a workday, and Sunday mornings are spent worshipping at St. John's Methodist Church. All have been home-schooled since the eighth grade.

"It's high impact," says LeToya about learning at home. "There aren't any lunches, no ten-minute breaks and seeing your friends in the hallway."

LeToya says she misses high school football games the most. "I love going, but it's not like we can really cheer for anybody, because it's not our school."

Beyonce chimes in: "I just want to go to a school for one week."
Still, the girls admit, the payoff for all that deprivation -- performing -- is more than worth the sacrifice: "Even if there's one person in the audience, we will perform," Beyonce says.

And perform they do -- with a knowing maturity that's occasionally disarming. Their budding womanhood is commonly wrapped in leather and Spandex, and expressed in slow, sexy moves that could be considered unbecoming for nice, churchgoing girls. "I think we're mature for our ages," Beyonce declares confidently.

Backing up the girls' mercurial growth spurt is Destiny's Child, a startlingly hip and refined effort that makes the most of contributions from Dwayne Wiggins (Tony Toni Tone), Wyclef Jean (Fugees), Jermaine Dupri and Master P, among other seasoned urban/rap studio auteurs. Even more impressive, Destiny's Child's lead single, "No, No, No" -- released prior to the album -- went gold in a mere seven weeks, and has sailed to the upper reaches of the R&B singles chart. Meanwhile, the group had already proven itself months before with "Killing Time," from the double-platinum Men in Black soundtrack.

So if it wasn't obvious before, it certainly should be now: Destiny's Child is no longer kid stuff.

"We don't tell people our ages," says Beyonce. "This is business maturity, not body maturity.

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Marlo Cobb