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Don't let the bling, the pricey sneakers and the baggy clothes fool you about Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott's casualness as she enters a party fashionably late.

She's a woman whose time has arrived in more ways than one.

The room is abuzz at her presence. The party's throng parts like the biblical Red Sea as she makes her way to her corner table with the best view of the beach.

The cast of UPN's Girlfriends joins her. A line of eager journalists, all of whom have been promised time with her, starts to develop.

They all want to ask her about The Road to Stardom With Missy Elliott, a hip-hop talent search show on UPN that she will host. It is the urban music star's first foray into a weekly series.

The series has 13 contestants traveling with her on a nationwide tour and performing challenges in an effort to win $100,000 and a recording contract.

Two hours after her arrival, Elliott is still chatting with her friends. She never acknowledges anything beyond her table.

When she makes time to talk to the press, journalists are escorted one by one to her table, where Elliott is now alone. Warm and personable, she talks of getting star-struck by Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston and her love for "old school" music such as Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Work preoccupies her for now. "I don't have a personal life," she says.

But Elliott has made a career lately out of talking about the effects of celebrity in her life. Her 2002 CD, the Grammy-winning Under Construction, dealt with celebrity through songs such as Gossip Folks and Nothing Out There for Me.

She wants the winner of Stardom to learn from her mistakes.

"You may see me on TV. You may see me with the cars and with the jewelry, but I've been through a lot to get it," she says. "But most of all, I had to believe in myself."

She began her career in a local singing group, which was signed to a minor label in 1992. Her "hee-haw" rap on Gina Thompson's The Things You Do caught the ears of record executives, and it eventually garnered her a major contract with Elektra Records.

Besides her acclaimed projects, Elliott has also worked arranging, producing and writing for Madonna, Beyonce Knowles and American Idol winner Fantasia.

She says she is doing Stardom to give unknown talent a hand. However, she wants the participants to get a handle on what fame could mean to them.

"You get a lot of people coming up and saying, "I love your work,' and then they start to use you. After a while, you can sort of tell which ones are really wanting to be your friends and which ones are there for the ride," she says.

Elliott says she was deceived by adoration at first because she wanted it so badly. She says her eagerness to be accepted came from her modest childhood.

"You think, "Wow, these people really like me.' I just wanted to be cool," she says. "I was more open to having just a lot of friends, but I didn't know there was a lot of motives behind it. Somebody, somewhere, is not being real."

Born in Portsmouth, Va., Elliott, 33, says domestic violence was part of her life until her parents divorced when she was a young girl. Her mother's independence and determination are her inspirations, she says.

On her next CD, Elliott says, she wants to address needy women desperate for love. She admits she's speaking from experience.

"If you want other people to believe what you say, then you have to have the confidence to act that way yourself," she says.

"It's not about being cocky. It's about being sure . . . what you're saying is right."