The ladies of TLC do not mince words. Never have. Never will. And truthfully? There’s no need to. It’s refreshing—and they know it. Plus, most of the time, even when they’re coming across as being serious, they’ve having fun… sometimes at your expense.
Take today for example. Chilli, who’s just as sweet as can be, is strong-arming me about coverage. She’s mocking EBONY about not putting the group on the cover of the magazine and playfully suggesting that we need to do something about it.
“I’m good…” Chilli drawls in a Southern girl sing-songy voice, “but I’ll be happier when y’all put us on the cover. I’m saying, we’ve done a little something in our career. Just a little bit. Where is the love?”
The love is all around. And come Monday, TLC fans will likely be busting up the Internet with plenty of it. Finally, after years of teasing and behind-the-scenes work, VH1’s TLC biopic, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, will hit the small screen. KeKe Palmer, Drew Sidora and Lil Mama take on one of the world’s most successful girl groups of all time. The remaining members of TLC (Left Eye tragically died in a car crash in 2002) consulted the actresses on how best to pull their story off, and the team at VH1 shot filmed in hometown of Atlanta.
It’s about time this story was brought to life. Many of us remember the TLC Behind the Music episode, where the trio revealed how they went bankrupt despite being a household name and selling millions of albums. Just how well did they do? Their debut Oooooohhh… On the TLC Tip sold six million copies worldwide; 1994’s CrazySexyCool sold over 15 million, and their third album FanMail (released in 1999) moved more than 10 million.
And through all of that success came plenty of heartache. Nothing will be off-limits in this story which airs on Monday, October 2: T-Boz’s health scares, Chilli’s pregnancy and Left Eye’s untimely death. EBONY.com talks with T-Boz and Chilli about bringing CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story—and their beloved friend and bandmate Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes—to life.
EBONY: Why was it the right time for you guys to push the green light on this?
T-Boz: I think timing is everything. We had talked about it previously, and when Chilli had her situation at VH1 [the reality show What Chili Wants] and bought it up to them, they loved the idea. We joined forces with L. A. Reid again. Why not? It just seemed like the perfect time, and everything is falling into place together at the right time.
EBONY: We’ve pretty much known about every trial and tribulation you guys have had. What will be learned from this biopic?
T-Boz: Instead of just hearing about the bankruptcy, you’ll get to really see first hand why we were bankrupt and where the money really went. I think it will give you insight into the main things that you heard about TLC. You’ll learn financially what took place, where’s the money and who was taking money.
Chilli: I think people will really get to see how human we really are, because when you are in the public eye, you’re perceived maybe like you’re not really so much like a human. We’re like everybody else. We hurt like everybody. We all have the same problems with family or friends, boyfriends, all that stuff. So I like the fact that people will see that we’re normal and went through—and still go through—stuff like everybody else.
EBONY: You ladies have always been generous with letting the world know what was going on, even when you all were on top of the charts. We know about Chili’s abortion, T-Boz’s illness and issues that Left Eye went through. Was that strategic or organic?
Chilli: I think that was the very unique part about us and why the three of us fit—and Tionne and I fit—to this day. You have three different people, but we’re very strong individuals and very outspoken. So it was not like it was just one person and then you had two other members saying, “Nah, let’s not handle it that way,” and then you just hold it in. All three of us are very outspoken, strong-headed women. So when we weren’t happy about something, we weren’t very quiet about it.
Yes, Lisa was a little bit more… uh, she went a lot further than we went! But we just wanted to get to know what was going on. And it was authentic, even down to the things we wanted to talk about in our songs and the way we dressed. We’re just very open.
EBONY: Keke and Drew told me that they spent time with you both soaking up your personalities, but Lil Mama was at a disadvantage. What did you guys give her to help her morph into Lisa?
T-Boz: Well, we spent a lot more time with her because she didn’t have somebody here to talk to like Drew and Keke, but it was amazing. She was so good and did so much research, and she has a lot of quirky and funny ways that Lisa has anyway. She was the first person we collectively saw, and we picked her together because we were like, “Oh my God!” She was so good we forgot she was Lil Mama. She was just… this actress.
Chilil: She killed it. It was crazy. We spent a lot more time with her just to make sure she had everything she needed. Because this story is told from our point of view, and there are things the three of us went through that our moms and our best friends don’t even know. They couldn’t have told Lil Mama certain things with us. Not her family, not some of her friends. No one could have done that because it’s really the TLC story.
EBONY: When did you know she nailed it?
T-Boz: After seeing her in person audition for us we just knew. We were like, “That’s her.” We had a trying time finding a T-Boz and a Chilli. It was actually down to the wire and last minute. Drew happened to send in a last-minute audition tape and then I was like, “OK, that’s her!”
Chilli: I think out of all three of the girls, Lil Mama was the one for me. There’s not ever one moment in watching her portray Lisa that I wouldn’t have been like, “Oh my God.” I’m telling you, it was something to see. Lil Mama, her transformation with the hair and makeup… she looks more like Lisa than the other two look like us. She’s the sister that’s missing, so of course there’s times where we’re just like, “Hold up… it’s so uncomfortable.” She nailed it.
EBONY: One scene I saw recreated was the “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” video. The crew went nuts when they finished taping. Sent chills through everyone there. That was 20 years ago. Does it feel like it’s been 20 years?
T-Boz: It does! We just realize how time flies by. It’s just like, wow.
Chilli: And what I saw in the “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” set: even when we saw it on film, I had to do a double take, like, that’s not even us! Those are the actresses! It was crazy! They did an outstanding job, and we’re just so happy with the whole team.
EBONY: The whole film in a lot of ways feels like it’s a love letter to your fans.
T-Boz: Yeah, it is. You’re always in a blessed position if you have a great success story, especially to be in a position to be able to tell it so people can even understand. I think that’s a great way to put it. Because when you do write a letter, you want somebody to understand what you’re saying or where you’re coming from.
EBONY: Ne-Yo wrote this new track for you all, “Meant to Be.” What was that like working with him?
Chilil: We sat down with him and talked about our story and he was like, “I got it.” And in three days, he sent us the demo of the song. Tionne and I were like, “Wait a minute now. How in the world was he able to come up with that song?” I mean, he wasn’t there with us through the tough times. But he is such a musical genius. We couldn’t have written that song better ourselves.
EBONY: Does that mean a full album is coming soon? You guys broke Twitter when the song dropped!
T-Boz: Somebody leaked it! It’s like, we didn’t even put it out. It wasn’t even supposed to go this way. It’s taken a life of its own. It was crazy.
Chilli: It’s amazing. We’ll see what happens. Because we know what “Meant to Be” means for us. You really listen to the lyrics, it could mean anything for anybody. It could be the job that you got or overcoming some ginormous obstacle in your life. Whatever it is and you’re still standing. It was meant for you to be here to do whatever great thing you were put on this earth to do.