Destiny's Woman

updated 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

She sings. She dances. She acts. She even contributed a new term—"bootylicious," from the '01 song she cowrote of the same name—to The Oxford Dictionary of English (definition: sexually attractive). Just don't ask Beyoncé Knowles to make you dinner. "Whenever they were handing out cooking lessons, I was in the studio," says the 22-year-old showbiz veteran. One time "I tried to cook some fries. It was a disaster. I'd rather not talk about it."

If her fries leave room for improvement, not much else does. With the summer's No. 1 song ("Crazy In Love," from her solo debut, Dangerously in Love), a hot boyfriend (rapper Jay-Z, 33) and a buzz-making performance at the recent MTV Video Music Awards, Beyoncé has clearly graduated from Destiny's Child to womanly superstar. Now she's tackling something else: dressed-down drama. Playing a single mother in the new big-screen romance The Fighting Temptations, Beyoncé flaunts her acting chops—and forgoes glam makeup—opposite Cuba Gooding Jr. "On the first day of filming she was a little nervous," says director Jonathon Lynn. "She was aware that I might be treating her with kid gloves, so she took me aside and said, 'Make sure you're happy with what you get from me.'"

That's hardly the kind of diva attitude that her bootylicious stage presence would suggest. "She jokes that she's 'Sasha' onstage, and when she's off, she's just Beyoncé," says her mom (and stylist), Tina, 49. "So Sasha is the diva, not her." Even if others aren't always as clear about the distinction. While shooting Temptations in Atlanta last year, she ventured into a local boxing ring with Gooding Jr. and drew some pretty lusty stares from the male crowd. "I thought, 'Damn, am I gonna have to get the bodyguards?'" says the actor. But Beyoncé, he says, "was so innocent about it all. She makes people feel comfortable. All the hard-core pugilists were smiling the whole time."

Those smiles might have been a little less wide had Jay-Z been in the ring. The rap superstar, who collaborated on "Crazy In Love," threw his girlfriend of one year a surprise 22nd-birthday party at 40/40, his New York City club, on Sept. 4. The couple also were spotted cuddling at the U.S. Open the next day and vacationing in Saint-Tropez last month. Still, neither one has ever acknowledged the relationship in the press. Notes Beyoncé: "I don't say if he's my boyfriend or not."

She exercises the same control over her professional life. "Beyoncé is involved in every aspect of her career," says Tina. "She's calling the shots." Which includes maintaining her deliberately curvy figure. "I like to tell young people there's nothing wrong with curves," says Beyoncé. Still, she acknowledges, "I watch what I eat. I wanna maintain a size that I feel comfortable with."

But self-confidence has never been much of a problem for the singer, who grew up in Houston. At an elementary-school talent competition when she was 7, "you could tell from the moment she walked on the stage she was gifted," says her dad (and manager), Mathew, 52, a former Xerox sales rep who formed Destiny's Child in 1995. (He also manages the singing career of Beyoncé's sister Solange, 17.)

With Beyoncé front and center, Destiny's Child took off, selling more than 33 million albums and singles worldwide so far. Although they've gone their separate ways of late, they plan to reunite on a new album "probably in the middle of next year," says Beyoncé. In the meantime she's looking forward to moving into her new Miami pad—three condos that she is combining into one—and is already setting her sights on her next goal: In 10 years, she says matter-of-factly, "I wanna have an Oscar and a Grammy." And no, she doesn't need fries with that.

Michelle Tauber
Sean Daly in Los Angeles, Joanne Fowler and Amy Longsdorf in New York City and Susan Mandel in Washington, D.C.

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