It isn't easy getting 14-year-old Kellie Shanygne Williams of Forestville to admit that she might be a rising star.
The 5-foot-3 actress who plays Laura Winslow in ABC's "Family Matters" has her own dressing room and a publicist, is chauffeured in limos and mobbed by pint-size autograph seekers.
In its Nov. 10 edition, Faces International Magazine named her as one of its "Ten Most Exciting New Faces of the Fall TV Season."
There are millions of teenage girls -- including 2,500 she beat out for the role -- who would give anything to be in her patent leather slip-ons.
And her classmates and friends think she is.
But Williams demurs.
"People keep saying I'm a star," she said. "I'm not a star, just a normal, goofy teenager who likes to chew bubble gum, watch TV instead of doing homework, blast my stereo to Bell Biv Devoe, hang out at malls and go shopping."
"Kellie doesn't like to be called a star," said Naaeemah Carter, 13, of Southeast Washington, who says she's Kellie Williams' best friend of eight years.
"Kellie doesn't have a big ego because she's on TV. She's still a real person, a friend. We do a lot of fun things together like gossip on the phone, slumber parties, the movies and taking Metro all over the city.
"When we go out, especially to the malls, people recognize her and ask for her autograph. As friends, we don't treat her like Ms. Hollywood. But she is a star."
What happened to Kellie Williams reads like a script for a Hollywood success story.
Last year, Oxon Hill talent agent Linda Townsend, who has managed Kellie's career for five years, got a tip about auditions for a new family sitcom on ABC, read a copy of the pilot script, and passed it along to her client. When Kellie asked to audition for the role, her father, Ervin Williams, who works as an operator for C&P Telephone Co., sent a home video audition tape to ABC in New York. A casting director forwarded the tape to executive producers Robert Boyett and Thomas L. Miller, who flew Kellie to Hollywood for a screen test and signed her for "Family Matters."
There she joined one of a growing number of series featuring talented children. Bill Bickley, a co-executive producer of "Family Matters" (and CBS' "The Family Man"), said recently that child-oriented series have proliferated because of the success of ABC's "Full House." That sitcom airs Fridays at 8, just before "Family Matters" at 8:30.
Kellie Williams was hardly a stranger to the spotlight. After attending Howard University's Children's Theater, she appeared in two plays, "The Colored Museum" (1988) and "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" (1989), at the Studio Theater here.
She had roles in the theatrical movies "Suspect" (1987), filmed in the District and starring Cher, and "Men Don't Leave" (1989), filmed in Baltimore and starring Jessica Lange. She also appeared in an ABC movie, "Luther's Choice."
"Family Matters," a spinoff from "Perfect Strangers," is about an extended working-class black family sharing crowded living space in Chicago. The show finished 29th last season, according to Nielsen ratings.
The series features JoMarie Payton-France as Harriet Winslow (the elevator operator from "Perfect Strangers"), Reginald VelJohnson ("Die Hard") and Telma Hopkins ("Gimme a Break").
Kellie plays 13-year-old Laura Winslow, one of three Winslow children. Darius McCrary plays the eldest, Jaimee Foxworth the youngest, and little Joseph Julius Wright plays their cousin. Jaleel White plays Steve, a nerdy classmate who has a crush on Laura.
Kellie and her character have a lot in common. Both are from working-class families, close to their parents, make honor-roll grades, have household chores and enjoy shopping. In the Williams family, Kellie is also one of three, with a sister, Marty, 9, and a brother, Donte, 7.
On the sitcom, the Winslow kids mouth-off a bit to their parents. But Kellie Williams, said her father, "knows not to sass us."
When Kellie got the job on "Family Matters," her mother quit hers as a secretary at Howard University, found a secretarial position in Los Angeles and temporarily relocated Kellie, Marty and Donte there.
"I've watched the kids very closely, and they've adjusted to L.A. quickly and with no problems," said Patricia Williams. "They have the best of two worlds."
But Ervin Williams, who stayed behind, hasn't adjusted quite so easily to his family's move.
"I talk to my family every day on the phone. I miss them. Talking to them long distance -- you're not there with them," he said with regret, even for a man who works for a phone company. "Adjustment seems easy for the kids. As long as they can swim, buy candy -- they're happy. I admire Kellie for the way she juggles her busy schedule. She says she loves it."
Kellie has a rigorous schedule, working 9 1/2-hour days five days a week and eventually taping each episode of "Family Matters" before an audience.
The money's good for sitcom regulars, who, according to Townsend, earn beginning salaries of between $3,000 and $7,000 per episode. If the show is a hit, she said, salaries may be renegotiated. Under California law, one-fourth of Kellie's earnings goes into a trust fund. Townsend also set up a college trust fund for her.
On the set, the young actress studies with an academic tutor; and when the series is finished taping in February, Patricia Williams packs up her children and moves back to Forestville, where Kellie attends Thomas G. Pullen School for the Performing Arts in Landover.
Kellie said she doesn't accept any professional work while the series is on hiatus. Nor is returning to Pullen difficult, she said, because "when I'm in L.A. I keep in contact with a lot of friends over the phone and we all look forward to seeing each other."
Her counselor at the Forestville school, Inez Henderson, called Kellie "a very sensitive, well-rounded teenager, who doesn't view herself as a celebrity and is unfazed by it all. She doesn't let education take second place to Hollywood. She is very conscientious about her academic performance, never falls behind in her work and adjusts well when she returns back to Pullen."
Henderson said Kellie doesn't want to be treated like a celebrity at school. But the morning of her return from Hollywood last spring, Pullen students hung a "welcome back" banner in the school's main hall.
"The students are beyond excitement," said Henderson. "They all want Kellie in their classes, in their homerooms."
On the set, the young actress is getting another education. Hopkins has taken Kellie under her wing and taught her about a business she believes is permeated with racism. Kellie said Hopkins told her she experienced discrimination whenever she auditioned for roles written for white actresses.
"Telma would say, 'I can play that role,' and people would say, 'But you're black,'" said Kellie. "Telma told me to never let anybody tell me I can't do something because I'm black."
Rosetta LeNoirre, 78, who plays Mother Winslow, told Kellie about having to sit in the back of the bus while traveling to performances and having to enter theaters through the back door, about the "no colored allowed" signs, and about witnessing the lynching of a black man in Mississippi after a performance there.
Kellie's parents say she is fortunate to work with Hopkins and the other "Family Matters" cast members, many of whom participated in the civil rights marches of the 1960s.
"These are our heroes. These are the people who stood up and paved the way for Kellie. These are the people you take your hat off to," said Patricia Williams, "and you don't let a Kellie Williams forget."
And the young actress has learned something else: She said she's interested in studying law or becoming an executive producer because, she's concluded, that's "where the money and power is.
"I don't know how long I'll be in this business," she said. "I'm very fortunate and I'm having fun. Yes, I'd like to make this my career. But this is Hollywood; it could end tomorrow."