After the split, Beyonce was so upset she stayed in bed for weeks. She prayed, wept and sought spiritual guidance at St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston. Let's pay a visit, shall we? Beyonce and Kelly have been attending services since they were kneehigh, and their devotion is so complete that they will often take a Saturday red-eye flight from wherever they are in the country, attend services and then climb back on the plane. "It's a real special place," says the girls' pastor, Rudy Rasmus. "We started with nine folk nine years ago; now it's 4,600. Even though it's a large community, it's really like a small town." Pastor Rasmus is a charismatic man, generous with hugs, crackling with good-humored energy. He wears jeans and a baseball cap. "We don't do suits here," he says, picking up a kid who scurries by and giving him a hug. It is early Saturday morning, but the church is in full swing – the daycare center is jammed with children, and a boisterous group of volunteers is gathering in the lobby to work in the adjacent soup kitchen.
A woman runs into the lobby. "Quick, y'all," she tells the group. "My brother's outside in the car. This is the closest he'll ever get to church." Whooping, they all run outside.
"The girls grew up here," says Pastor Rasmus. "Beyonce sang in the choir. They come to church here – Mathew, Tina, Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle and there's no spotlight on them. Folks leave them alone." He reconsiders, then laughs. "Well, it's kinda hard for a fourteen-year-old boy or girl to look at 'em this close and not be affected. And it's kinda funny, but our attendance in that age group exponentially increased."
Pastor Rasmus, for one, is unsurprised by the group's success. "These girls have always had the desire to do this thing," he says, settling into a pew. "And when we met 'em as children, you could see that: 'We're gonna do it.' And Mathew is a very determined guy, so I had few doubts that he was gonna ultimately do it. And I've seen the sacrifices that he and Tina have made to see this happen." He leans forward. "And that's one thing I really admire about them – they're taking no prisoners as it relates to someone messing with their kids. I mean, just because the kids are making money doesn't mean you just release them to the wolves. Who are circling."
The congregation of St. John's has had the group members on its prayer list for the last seven years. "There are many times that we know they're gonna be going through something, that we pray extra, and they've had those times during their careers," he says. "You know, lots of transition."
After the two original members left the group, Farrah Franklin, then eighteen, stepped in, as did Michelle, nineteen. Five months after joining, Franklin, who had allegedly missed a series of promotional appearances, was gone. "She had some issues," says Michelle, who we find primping in a New York dressing room for a photo shoot. "Apple Piea la Mode" is cranking on a boombox, and everyone in the room is dancing as they work. "She just couldn't handle the stress and the work that comes with this. I don't know if she thought that it was gonna be all fun and games, but it's not." As Michelle herself found out: During the first two weeks she was with the group, she rehearsed twelve hours a day, every day.
At the time, Michelle was also battling insecurity. "I mean, many tears were shed," she says. "I was comparing myself to other members, and the pressure was on me."
Michelle, the daughter of a nurse and a car salesman, grew up in Rockford, Illinois. Her family was primarily composed of healthcare professionals ("Everyone's sitting around the table at family dinners, talking about medicine"). Michelle originally wanted to be an obstetrician, even enrolling as a pre-med student at the University of Illinois. Then, through a series of friends, she got the gig singing for Monica. Shortly thereafter, a choreographer friend hooked her up with Destiny's Child. She was flown to Houston, where she stayed with the Knowles family. "They didn't take me to a hotel, where they're in a conference room and say, 'Dance! Sing!' "says Michelle. "They welcomed me into their house."
"And she slept in our beds," adds Beyonce, getting her hair done by her mom. Right away, the friendship among the three clicked into place. Beyonce and Kelly offered support, in fact, when Michelle experienced a pivotal first event in a girl's life. (You female readers will understand.) "I got my mustache waxed for the first time," says Michelle. "Beyonce's mom was there to hold my hand, because I didn't know what was going on." They all smile at each other fondly, lost in the moment.
Michelle, it is clear, is here to stay. (The girl is already press-savvy. When asked whether Destiny's Child played at the Republican inauguration because they are Republicans, she says crisply, "We're not gonna discuss our political backgrounds here.")
With the trio solidified, says Beyonce, "my life is perfect now. People want to read about us and the old members, and how we didn't get along," she adds. "Who cares? It's done. We do get along, we do love each other and support each other."
They try to ignore the haters, they say – although Kelly did lose it not too long ago, when a fan approached and said he was happy Beyonce "let her sing" on the Charlie's Angels soundtrack. "I got ghetto and ignorant," she declares.
Beyonce grins. "She was like, 'What did y'all say? She didn't let me sang? That is my sister that you're talking about!' I was like, 'Kelly, calm down.'"
Yes, there are plans for each member to have a solo album, but that is in the distant future. "It was a rumor that I had a $3 million solo deal," says Beyonce, inspecting her eye makeup in a mirror. "And I was like, 'What?' As soon as you get successful, they want to make you Diana Ross. We're not even planning on recording those albums until, like, a year from now."
"We're not rushing into it at all," says Kelly. They can't, anyway. They've got a big summer tour right around the bend. They haven't been home in months ("Beyonce was laughing and crying the other day," says Kelly. "That's when I knew it was time to go home"), but this is what they have always wanted. They are well aware of the ADD-afflicted nature of pop music, so they pray. They strategize. They consult Billboard. And they work. "You can't get a big head, because it will be taken away from you in a second," says Beyonce "A lot of artists don't understand that. They think if they get a record, they'll be here forever. We have seen people that stopped being hungry, who have no career right now. We have worked, worked, worked, worked, worked."
Kelly holds up a testifying hand. "As long as we love each other, stay positive and, more than anything, don't take our eyes off God, we're gonna be fine." And they probably will be, God bless 'em.
This story is from the May 24, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.
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