Alicia Keys Comes Out of Her Corner Fighting

"Alicia's at the point where she could think about branding herself, in the Tyra Banks or Oprah Winfrey mold," Fennessey says. "If you find a way to make people care about you that much, you can make them care about what you think about everything."

Then there are her "Diana Ross-like ambitions," says Fennessey, who points to her fledgling film career, which has included roles in 2006's "Smokin' Aces" and last year's" The Nanny Diaries." In 2009, she'll appear with Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Paul Bettany and Dakota Fanning in "The Secret Life of Bees," adapted from Sue Monk Kidd's best-selling, coming-of-age novel set in 1960s South Carolina.

"It's one of the best things I've been involved with yet," says Keys, who in Bees plays June Boatwright. "She's very layered. She comes off as invincible, but underneath it all she's hurt and a bit scared. During the film, she finds a way to be more comfortable in her skin, more open, a little less afraid of life and love."

Theatrical ambitions

Keys hopes to act more and eventually craft her own stories, and not just for the screen. "I want to get into musical theater, because there are a lot of new stories to be told, and ways to tell them that will be fresh and fun. I actually have a great idea for (a musical) that I would love to see on Broadway."

After her flirtation with flipping out, though, Keys realizes that it's important not to pile too much on her plate at once. Luckily, "I'm surrounded by some really great people who care about me and who would say, even before I did, 'This is getting too crazy.' "

That core support group could eventually include a husband and kids. "I used to always think of a marriage as a death sentence, but recently I've been able to look at it in a different light. You can focus on the negative and ugly sides of it, but it can also be a beautiful union, a place where you can grow.

"I want to figure myself out a bit more before I make such a commitment, because it's something you really need to be dedicated to -- especially if you have children. But when the time comes, which I think it will, it's going to be really special."

For now, Keys is focused on realizing her own goals -- without being consumed by them.

"It's great to be driven and to have dreams, but it's also very important to relax and enjoy life," she says. "And to be young. You're only young once."

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