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— by Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway

NEW YORK — In a few weeks, Beyoncé will be right back where she is on this bright summer day: onstage at a now-empty Radio City Music Hall.

Unlike today, though, the house will be literally standing-room only, filled with the likes of her man Jay-Z, her parents and a ton of her peers — from Diddy to Outkast — as they converge at MTV's Video Music Awards like they do every year. For the first time ever, B will be performing "Ring the Alarm," the second single from her second solo LP, B'Day. And while a ton of talented A-list showmen and women will grace the stage that night, Beyoncé will undoubtedly attract extra attention.

That's what happens when you're the top female in your lane.

Mariah may reign supreme when it comes to the 35-and-older legends, but as far as the new generation of ladies goes, there's no question — 24-year-old Beyoncé Knowles is the Queen. She's risen to the top among the Ashantis and Monicas, and even the flaming-hot Ciara and Rihanna still can't hold a candle to her ... at least not yet. Beyoncé seems to have the entire package: She can sing and dance with the best of them, she's become influential in the fashion world and she has a boyfriend whose influence and talent are only surpassed by his $320 million-plus bank account.

So of course at an event like the VMAs, Beyoncé will be applauded and lauded, but she'll also be scrutinized. And even an all-around über-entertainer who seems so comfortable in her skin still gets scared before performances.

"Whenever I get outside my comfort zone I get nervous and scared," says B, sitting in the empty theater weeks before the big show. "Every time I get on the stage, I'm nervous [beforehand]. I'm actually really scared when I'm not nervous, 'cause then I don't transform into that person that people are used to seeing.

"I'm really more quiet," she admits. "I'm not really shy, but I'm reserved. I speak when I'm spoken to and I'm polite, and when I'm onstage, I'm aggressive, strong — I'm fearless. I'm not who I am in real life. So, when I get nervous, I pray and ask God to bring whatever that is into me, and it happens and I transform — but before that, I'm terrified."

"Every time I get on the stage, I'm nervous [beforehand]. I'm actually really scared when I'm not nervous."
Beyoncé isn't often as frightened as she was the first day of production on "Dreamgirls," the Bill Condon-directed film adaptation of the Broadway musical. The film, due in theaters December 25, centers around Beyoncé's character Deena Jones, the breakout singer in an all-female '60s soul group, and it co-stars tenured and acclaimed actors including Danny Glover, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx.

When Beyoncé walked on set on day one of production, the first person she saw was Jennifer Hudson, who plays Effie White, another member of the group. Beyoncé saw that Hudson was visibly as petrified as she was, so she simply asked the third-season "American Idol" finalist, "Girl, are you scared? 'Cause I'm terrified. Don't think that you're the only one scared."

A relieved Hudson replied in shock, "Really?"

"We were all nervous," Beyoncé explains at Radio City. "You know, [we were working with] legendary actors. They have Oscars and we grew up watchin' them and it was amazing to be in the presence of greatness. They brought out great things in me."

Cracking a wide grin, she continues to gush about her experiences making the film. " 'Dreamgirls,' " she says, "every time I talk about it, I can't stop smiling. ... There are certain things that are once in a lifetime and you're never gonna experience something so wonderful. It was that experience — everything was perfect. The Broadway musical 'Dreamgirls' started out in New York City in 1981, the same year I was born. And I know I was born for the part. I had to read for the part — they weren't gonna just give it to me, which made me feel even better, 'cause I had to earn it."

Once she got the nod, B really immersed herself in her role. She trained with an acting coach for months, lost 20 pounds and, as she puts it, woke up every day "doing emotional diaries and crying." "I learned a lot about myself and I think you see the hard work from me and everyone on the set," she adds. "Everyone was just as excited as I was."


NEXT: 'I had a lot to say [on B'Day]. And the beats I was attracted to were a lot harder.' ...
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Photo: Getty

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