She remembers her as "a very quiet, private" girl who was "popular because she was beautiful"."Bey found out I could sing when we were both auditioning for Pinocchio," Luckett says.

She took the mike at Brentwood Baptist, Houston, aged five, cutting her teeth on gospel standards.

"It was more about feeling than getting the notes right.

That's why gospel singers are good at R&B: they've already learned how to let loose and improvise." At elementary school Luckett first encountered Knowles.

The 25-year-old Houston-born singer is a master of the meet-and-greet, and her vivacity and sexy Texan drawl soon take the edge off her lateness. Six years after being booted out of Destiny's Child, she has scored a US No 1 with her eponymous debut album.

Released some six weeks before Beyoncé Knowles's latest album B'Day, Luckett matched the chart placing that her rival and erstwhile bandmate's debut solo album achieved in the US. "Everybody thought I was going to give up after the Destiny's Child situation," says Luckett.

"But I'm not one to say: 'Oh, poor me - it's over.' I knew that as long as I kept a strong prayer life, I would be able to fulfil my destiny.

In groups, who sings this part or that part always turns into an issue.

The veranda view to the Nevada desert at sunset provides ample distraction, but Le Toya Luckett is late.

When the singer finally breezes into the plush Las Vegas suite that has been hired for the occasion, her small but surly entourage blames crossed wires.