Was it all destined? Sure seems that way. The Houston-based girl group (comprising these days, from left, Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé Knowles and Michelle Williams) scaled the music charts this year with "Bills, Bills, Bills," "Bug a Boo" and "Say My Name" from their multiplatinum second album, The Writing's on the Wall. In April they sang alongside the Supreme being herself in VH1's Divas 2000: A Tribute to Diana Ross. They also toured with Christina Aguilera and sent "Independent Women," the theme song to Charlie's Angels, straight into the stratosphere. "When you see your single on top of everybody's lists, it's like, 'Whoa, we're No. 1!' " exclaims 19-year-old lead singer Beyoncé (rhymes with fiancée) Knowles. The heart and soul of Destiny's Child, which is managed by her dad, Mathew (mother Tina is a hairstylist), Knowles has teamed with childhood pal Kelly Rowland, 19, since the pair formed their first group—Girls Tyme—at age 9. As for Destiny's other singers...longtime members LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett were dropped late last year (they have since filed a lawsuit) and replaced with Farrah Franklin (gone by July) and Michelle Williams, 21, who joined in February. "When I first got in," says Williams, "I just sat back and saw Destiny's Child going to the next level. It's like, how high can we go?" As high as Knowles's "incredible singing range" can soar, says the Fugees' Wyclef Jean, who has worked with the group and sees the glamorous Beyoncé "doing anything from Broadway to opera." For her part, Knowles nixes (for now) rumors of going solo. "The great thing about the roller coaster we're on is that we're going up, up, up," says Knowles, who comes down to earth at home in Houston, where all three bachelorettes still shop at Wal-Mart and do plenty of churchgoing and volunteer work. (For their role-model-worthy behavior the trio won an NAACP Image Award in February.) The roller coaster alone is enough for Rowland, who counts "getting in the front of the line at Six Flags" as her favorite star perk. "They close down the rides to everybody else," she reports. "We can go on anything we want, four times if we want!"
He has been acting for more than a decade, but his roles have been mostly forgettable. To get noticed, Tom Cavanagh, 32, had to start acting like himself. "To play Ed effectively, you have to be Ed," explains Rob Burnett, coproducer of NBC's critically acclaimed romantic comedy. "And Tom is. He's optimistic and he has the endearing enthusiasm of a Labrador puppy." Confirms Julie Bowen (with Cavanagh, inset), 29, who plays Ed's love interest: "He's soooo nice, soooo funny—and is it wrong for me to say that he's a really good kisser? If there's anything frustrating with Tom, it's that you can't figure out what's wrong with him." Playing the show's lawyer-cum-bowling-alley-owner leading man, Cavanagh says things couldn't be more right. "I know it sounds hokey," he admits, "but I love having the opportunity to go to work every day." In July the unmarried actor, who was raised in Canada and Ghana by schoolteacher parents, moved from L.A. to Manhattan, since Ed is shot in New Jersey. The show and the move have been good for his bank account. Not only is Cavanagh earning more than he ever has, "I'm spending less money than I did before," he says. "We're on the set so long that by the time I get home, every store is closed."
At age 12, Jessica Alba persuaded her mother to take her to an acting competition in Beverly Hills. "The grand prize was free acting classes," Alba says. "And I won the grand prize." She has since copped an even bigger crown: the lead role in the sci-fi series Dark Angel (inset), which has emerged as FOX's biggest hit of the season. Critics have been quick to attribute the show's success to Alba, 19, who plays a genetically engineered government agent being hunted by the military that created her. "She has the charisma to soar to great heights," pronounced USA Today. "I love that Max takes action," says Alba of her motorcycle-riding, black-leather-wearing alter ego. "She doesn't apologize for herself. She just goes in there and does her business." The same can be said about Alba. "I saw over a thousand people from all over the country for the role," says executive producer Charles Eglee, who created the series with Titanic director James Cameron. "But Jessica came in and was very arresting. We said, 'That's the girl.' " Growing up, Alba bounced from military base to military base with her father, Mark, 40, an Air Force staff sergeant of Mexican heritage; mother Cathy, 39, of French, Danish and Canadian descent; and brother Josh, 18. The family finally settled in Claremont, Calif., but Alba doesn't spend much time there now due to her 80-hour workweeks on Angel's Vancouver set, where she's known for telling "really gross jokes," says costar Valarie Rae Miller. In pursuing her career, however, Alba doesn't mess around. She studied martial arts and gymnastics so she could perform Angel's strenuous stunts and has also squeezed in a feature film, The Sleeping Dictionary, due out next fall. The actress isn't taking her recent string of successes for granted. "There are so many talented people," she says. "I'm just lucky."
He was such a nobody that each time the 20-year-old Moscow-born tennis player called the transportation desk at the U.S. Open to get a ride from his hotel to the stadium, he was asked to spell his name. On Sept. 10, however, Marat Safin made certain everyone knew exactly who he was: He won the U.S. Open (inset) by defeating defending champ and 13-time Grand Slam titleholder Pete Sampras in three straight sets. Overnight, Safin became "a star for the new millennium," SPORTS ILLUSTRATED declared. He also went from having to scrape by in Valencia, Spain (where he moved at age 14 to train), to living luxuriously in Monaco and driving a new Mercedes. "And now I can pay for tickets home—in first class!" says Safin, whose parents and younger sister still live in Moscow. He didn't win a medal for Russia at the Olympics, but his U.S. Open win earned him kudos from Boris Yeltsin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, both of whom sent telegrams. He was worthy of the praise, says NBC tennis commentator Bud Collins: "I've never seen a player of quality like Sampras get hog-tied like that. It was astounding." What's also astounding is that it almost didn't happen. At the start of the year Safin, who turned pro in '97, considered leaving tennis for good. "I didn't play so well, and I couldn't win one match," he says. "Then I decided to show people I'm not so bad." Now the No. 2 player in the world, Safin is finding that I the view near the top can be dizzying. "It's very difficult I to be at this level," he says. "I have to work twice as hard." 3
Question: What do you call a cross between Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson? Answer: Film critics' frantic attempts to define the star appeal of Colin Farrell, 24. The Dubliner set pens scribbling when he hit the screen last fall in Tigerland playing Roland Bozz (below, with Matthew Davis), an ornery Texan recruit who helps his boot-camp comrades avoid Vietnam. "I thought the odds of an Irish kid getting even a small part were pretty slim," says the film's director, Joel Schumacher. "But he was so intelligent and funny and mischievous." Farrell found his calling after realizing he had neither the talent nor the drive to follow his father, Eamonn, onto the pro soccer field. He enrolled in drama school and soon landed a part in the BBC hit Ballykissangel. Paying little attention to the Oscar buzz surrounding his Bozz—"It's just funny," he says—Farrell is focusing on his next films: American Outlaws, due in May, and Phone Booth and Hart's War, both slated for 2001. "While he now spends most of his time on movie sets, Farrell, who is single, keeps a cottage near his family in Dublin. "If it all gets taken away, I'll be okay," he says. "I have a life at home."
As a kid in Baltimore he moon-walked across many a talent contest stage trying to imitate Michael Jackson. "I wanted to be like my idol," says 25-year-old Sisqó, who went so far as pasting glitter right onto his feet to mimic the performer's sparkly socks. "But the hard glue almost ripped my little toes right off. Ouch!" Hey, no pain, no gain. And in the year since Sisqó took a break from the popular R&B quartet Dru Hill to launch a solo career, he has gained plenty. His CD Unleash the Dragon (above) went quadruple platinum, with a ditty called "Thong Song" dominating summer radio. He also appeared in ads for Pepsi; hosted a dance show on MTV called Sisqó's Shakedown; signed a sitcom deal with NBC and filmed the romantic comedy Get over It, due out in January. "Our dad would always say, 'It's a pipe dream—get a job,' " says Sisqó's sister and assistant Donisha Turner, 26, of her brother's showbiz ambition. "Now he says, 'Very good, very good.' " Born Mark Andrews, Sisqó was raised both in a middle-class suburb, where he lived with his parents, and "in the ghetto," he says, at his godmother's house. "Basically I'm from the hood. You can be from the hood but not of the hood." These days the new multimillionaire divides his time between a rented mansion in Beverly Hills and a Baltimore home that has an indoor pool with waterfalls and palm trees. But he's determined not to rest on his palm fronds—and he's intent on being a good influence for kids. "I want to make sure I exert positive energy without looking corny," says Sisqó, whose daughter Shaione, 5, lives near his Baltimore home with her mother. "And I want my name to go down in history as one of the talents. I want to be a big hero."
Last year Jhumpa Lahiri published her first book, Interpreter of Maladies—nine short stories inspired by the immigrant experiences of her Bengali parents and her own childhood visits to Calcutta. Although Lahiri, 33, who was raised in South Kingstown, R.I., and now lives in New York City, received critical acclaim—The New York Times called her a "writer of uncommon elegance and poise"—Maladies was not a blockbuster.
Then, in April, she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. When Lahiri heard the news, "I was heating up my lunch," she recalls. "I was utterly dumbfounded." Others were too. "It's a first work, not to mention short stories, so it had a few things going against it," says Janet Silver, Lahiri's editor at Houghton Mifflin, who championed the book because of its "mature insight into relationships." The award has given Lahiri, who has three master's degrees (in creative writing, comparative studies and English literature) and a Ph.D. (in Renaissance studies), new direction. "I always wrote stories, but I never thought it would be the way I earned a living," she says. Now working on a novel, she also is planning her January wedding to Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, 42, deputy editor of Time Latin America. "The Pulitzer cast a spotlight on her," he says, "but she is a very private person." Lahiri agrees: "I just want to write my book, live my life and be happy."
The man has a way with clay, as devotees of his well-known characters Wallace and Gromit have known for years. But last summer Nick Park won flocks of new fans with Chicken Run, his (and codirector Peter Lord's) first full-length theatrical release. The Dream Works SKG comedy, which has grossed more than $172 million, chronicles a breakout by a band of plucky poultry from a bleak English farm. "We didn't set out to make an overtly political film about chickens," says Park, 42. "But if it improves the lives of chickens, that can only be a good thing." The animator, whom Dream Works' Jeffrey Katzenberg calls "charming, smart and brilliantly creative," grew up in Preston, England. In 1985 he joined the Bristol-based Aardman Animations and in '91 won his first of three Oscars, for the short film Creature Comforts. The unmarried Park lives in a cottage near his office, where he is now at work on a Wallace and Gromit feature film, which, because of the painstaking Claymation process, will not be released until at least 2004. "On Chicken Run we had a target of 90 seconds of film a week," Park explains. "If we could get that, we got free meals in the canteen." Presumably, no one went for the chicken.
First, it was the sketch comedy series Mad TV that was going to make Orlando Jones a star. Series coproducer "Quincy Jones used to say, 'You're going to be huge, man, you're going to be huge,' " the actor recalls. The prediction didn't come true. Jones, 32, also foundered on the big screen, winding up in flops (Woo, Liberty Heights) or on the cutting-room floor (Magnolia). "Every time I'd finish a movie, people would say, 'This is going to be big,' " says Jones. "How many times can you buy that story?" At last his hard work is paying off. Following a popular TV ad campaign for 7-Up, Jones stood out in scene-stealing parts in The Replacements (below), with Keanu Reeves, and Bedazzled, with Brendan Fraser. Next he'll hit theaters as an investment banker on the run in Double Take, as a helicopter pilot in Say It Isn't So with Heather Graham and Chris Klein and as David Duchovny's college professor pal in Evolution. "He's able to be broadly funny but keep it real at the same time," says Duchovny. "That's what makes him the real thing." A former sitcom writer (Roc, A Different World), Jones has also sold scripts for three comedies. Thanks to his newfound cachet, the actor, who is single, has bought what he calls "between a house and a mansion" in Los Angeles as well as a South Carolina home for his parents, John, 57, a high school basketball coach, and Mattye, 60, a court clerk. But he says the fame is harder to get used to than the fortune. "Danny DeVito took the time to call and say The Replacements was a great movie," Jones explains. "Little stuff like that blows me away."
As the perpetually put-upon preteen genius in the hit FOX sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, Frankie Muniz is the pillar of calm and reason at the center of a freakish family (inset). But put him in the same room with Alicia Silverstone or Drew Barrymore (as he was at June's Blockbuster Awards) and Muniz becomes starstruck. "He acts really cool," says his mother, Denise, 44, a former nurse. "But afterward he goes, 'Wow, Mom.' " Sometimes he doesn't even try to hide his glee. "I'm in Hollywood!" he says. "It's so awesome to be here! It's been my dream since I can't remember when." At 16, Muniz still has years to work on being a jaded star—but don't count on it. "There is a genuine sweetness about him that you just really like to be around," says his TV dad Bryan Cranston. "He's going to grow up to be a terrific young man and actor." He's had a bigger head start than most, first appearing onstage at age 8 in a Raleigh, N.C., production of A Christmas Carol. Now settled in L.A. with his mom (who is separated from his father, Frank, 43, a restaurant manager), Muniz conquered not only TV this year but the movies as well, playing the lead in My Dog Skip. Malcolm, however, is the role of his young life. "We had a gigantic army assembled to do a talent search," says Malcolm creator and executive producer Linwood Boomer. "Then we saw Frankie. It was so obvious to everyone. He brought such a great intelligence and energy and natural skill to it." Like any teen, he brings that energy to other activities, such as playing softball. He doesn't have a girlfriend, but he does have a best friend who happens to be a girl. "I just want to be a normal kid," he says. "It's really cool to be on television, and I like everything about doing the show, but when I watch myself, I don't think about it as me. I separate myself from the person on TV."
At the Sydney Games, Rulon Gardner, a Mormon raised in Afton, Wyo., became the first Greco-Roman wrestler in 13 years to defeat Russia's Alexander "the Great" Karelin, a three-time Olympic gold medalist. Since then the 6'4", 286-lb. Gardner, 29, has been busy scribbling autographs during appearances worldwide. "I didn't expect everything to change," he says. While the wrestler and his schoolteacher wife, Stacy, 31, still live in what she calls a "tiny" house in Colorado Springs, the most welcome change has been financial. Before the Olympics, Gardner's annual income—$4,000 from Adidas, his sponsor, and $800 a month in wrestling stipends—meant Stacy was the breadwinner. After Gardner struck gold, his stipend bumped up $500, he received a $15,000 bonus from USA Wrestling and he competed in an Olympic edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, where he won $125,000 (half of which went to charity). Endorsement deals are in the works as well, but Easy Street is still far away. "We just want to pay off our bills and help his mom and dad," says Stacy. (Gardner's father, Reed, 70, a retired farmer, needs a triple bypass, and he and his wife, Virginia, 64, a nurse, don't have health insurance.) Still, shortly after the Olympics, Gardner rejected a lucrative offer from the World Wrestling Federation to join its smackdown ranks. "I told them I'm sticking with Greco-Roman wrestling," says the Olympian, who is about to start training for the 2004 Games. "I'm just coming into my prime."
Wait a second. Haven't we been watching this woman for years? "I've gotten it my whole life: 'You look like your mother!' " says Kate Hudson, 21, daughter of actress Goldie Hawn, 55. "I wonder if people don't get tired of talking about it." They may soon, for this year Hudson gave folks other things to talk about—namely, what the Los Angeles Times called her "delicate, authentic and accomplished" work as a rock groupie in Almost Famous (inset, with Patrick Fugit) and her quirky spin as Richard Gere's daughter in Dr. T & the Women. "She's one of the few young actresses who has the ability to be serious and funny at the same time," says Dr. T casting director Pam Dixon Mickelson. Adds Ian Bryce, a producer of Almost Famous: "She will be a big star." For nearly a year Hudson has been the leading lady in a whirlwind romance with Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson, 34, who this summer presented her with a diamond ring. Although Hudson won't reveal a date, she confirms that wedding bells will ring: "There's no question. We knew it the first day we met." She also knows the fickleness of fame, having parents in the business. (Her father is actor-musician Bill Hudson, 51, and she considers Hawn's longtime companion, actor Kurt Russell, 49, her "Pa" as well.) "I've learned from watching them that there are times you're up and times you're down," says Hudson, who next year will star in About Adam and Four Feathers. "You have to take it all with a grain of salt."