In the Line of Bootylicious
Michelle Williams Reflects On Her Time In And Life After Destiny’s Child
Band mates Kelendria “Kelly” Rowland and Beyoncé Knowles speak low a few feet away, engaged in their own girl talk. But suddenly their ears are felt. Quickly and enthusiastically, Williams adds: “But you know I’m just focusing on this tour right now, you know? And I’ve gained two of the sweetest friends ever in the whole world.” And the smile is felt through the phone.
Williams is the petite one, but she can be quite the Secretary of State—she’s the steely-eyed one on the cover of 2004’s Destiny Fulfilled. Such confidence is born out of her steady-selling contemporary gospel CDs, 2002’s Heart to Yours and 2004’s Do You Know; her darling 12-week run as the lead in Broadway’s 2003 Aida; and her newly minted endorsement deal with Gap for its fall 2005 campaign. These are superb credentials for any singer/dancer/actress/model, but keeping up in Destiny’s Child is a real bitch.
Kelly Rowland’s 2002 solo debut, Simply Deep, went gold and earned a Grammy, and Rowland signed a Soft Sheen-Carlson hair-products endorsement deal this year. But even those achievements pale in comparison to those of founding member Beyoncé.
The latest in a litany of accolades to pop-music queen Beyoncé’s name—as in, since five Grammys for 2003’s quadruple-platinum Dangerously in Love, Image awards, movie roles, and magazine covers galore—is the starring role in Dreamgirls, a movie based loosely on the life of Diana Ross. Filming begins after Destiny’s Child’s heavily endorsed “Destiny Fulfilled and Loving It” tour is over. Not surprisingly, the trio has decided to disband indefinitely at that time.
“It’s not like we’re saying, ‘OK, we’re done,”” Williams says. “We may do another tour together somewhere down the line, but we’ve all got so much more to do on our own. I’m based in Chicago, Kelly’s gonna be living in Miami, and Beyoncé lives in New York.”
There aren’t any definite solo projects for lady-in-waiting Williams, though, and her immediate future is unclear. “I’m gonna try to do another record,” the 25-year-old says cautiously in her prim Northern accent. “I’ve been writing and talking to a few people. Maybe next year. I don’t wanna put a time on that, you know. But no album date has been set. I just wanna kind of explore life some more. We’ll see. I would love to do more Broadway, though.”
The show Destiny’s Child performs later this evening at Atlanta’s Philips Arena is as Broadway as they come. “This is the biggest production Destiny’s Child has ever done,” Williams says of the extravagant stage show, which includes virtuoso dancers, diverse costuming, historical sets, moving platforms, videography, animation, a real waterfall, and a feel-good finale. “The fans, I think, have just been overwhelmed and surprised.”
Beyoncé is an obvious star. Vocally, however, the real surprise of the tour is Williams, who kills it during her solo parts—few as they are—and proves to Destiny’s Child fans what Broadway already knows: Williams can sing. There’s a powerhouse voice in her miniature frame.
“[Broadway] taught me a lot of discipline and strengthened me vocally,” she says about the Aida experience, which had her performing alongside Elton John. “The voice is a muscle that you’re using, so it actually made mine stronger.”
Strong is not the word; what Williams accomplishes is superhuman. First of all, it’s tough to sell a hard-core gospel song in the middle of a pop-music concert—and she gets very little help, mind you, from her team. All four of Beyoncé’s solo pieces—“Baby Boy,” “Naughty Girl,” “Crazy in Love,” and “Dangerously in Love”—include elaborate and flattering costumes; well-planned staging, lighting, and set design; and wowing dance routines from her passel of dancers, all very much like her music videos.
Williams performs “Do You Know” standing on a bare stage all by her lonesome, and just house lights to work with—Rowland, too, for her solos “Bad Habit” and “Dilemma.” Talk about sink or swim.
No dancers, no back-up singers, no sexy costuming, props, or skits—not even decent lighting. Williams is allowed no enticements for the audience; she’s up there with nothing but her voice.
At the recent tour stop in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Williams was clad in a peach-colored Victorian ball gown replete with either a wire hoop skirt underneath or lots of petticoats and a bustle. It so engulfs her that she wears a wrist attachment for the train of her dress so that she doesn’t trip over it. This antiquated costuming—unflattering and too much for her small frame—further alienates her from the audience, and makes her music even less accessible; she should be wearing something to show off her girlish figure. But Williams rolls with these challenges, works it, covers every inch of the stage, remains focused and somewhat unresponsive to the crowd’s initial indifference. And when she belts out “Do you know/ He is here” three-quarters of the way through her song, not only do you believe it, but you can feel it. Suddenly, everyone is on their feet, and nobody cares that it’s a “gospel song.”
“I love all types of music,” says Williams, who had a strict Pentecostal upbringing. “I love people like Sting and Phil Collins and Chaka Khan, as well as the Winans and Yolanda Adams. But I didn’t do my albums to be recognized by the gospel industry necessarily because I knew how they would think,” she says, referring to the “church folks” who criticize her singing gospel as well as seductive R&B.
“I know that they want to protect the integrity of gospel music and I totally respect that, but you can’t be narrow-minded,” she says. “At our concerts there are people who don’t go to church. There are people who think God is evil. They think they have to be so perfect. And I tell people you don’t. You’re not going to do everything right. God has blessed me to be able to witness to the world, to go to places some gospel artists can’t even go. I was in Amsterdam recently, and a guy told me, ‘You know, I don’t believe in God, but I love that song you do.’ So all I can do is plant a seed.”
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