Effie White, Deena Jones, and Lorrell Robinson - three friends from Chicago - are a promising singing trio called The Dreamettes. Accompanied by their songwriter C.C. White (Effie's brother), they travel to New York to compete in a talent show at the Apollo Theatre.
Although the girls lose this first bid for fame, their talent attracts an ambitious manager by the name of Curtis Taylor, Jr., who uses unscrupulous tactics to move the girls from backup singers of superstar James "Thunder" Early to superstars of their own. Curtis reshapes the group to "crossover" from R & B to the lucrative pop music scene. Lead singer Effie gets replaced by the more attractive Deena and is eventually dropped from the trio.
The group evolves into a more sophisticated group, The Dreams, with a lighter sound and chic look. They successfully attract a "whiter" audience and The Dreams rise to international stardom. The money, fame, and adulation, however, doesn't bring them happiness.