As a member of the group who in the early ’90s taught an entire generation of girls about the dangers of scrubs, busters, and men who ”live at home wit their mama,” Chilli from TLC has always been a proponent of having dating and relationship standards. Not much has changed. Only this time, she’s airing her expectations not through a catchy R&B/pop tune with a tongue-twisting rap interlude, but with her new reality show What Chilli Wants, premiering tonight at 10:30 p.m.
As part of the VH1 show, advice columnist Tionna Smalls helps Chilli (real name Rozonda Thomas) as she searches for her perfect man, one who steers clear of the offenses mentioned in the headline, and also meets the (sometimes eccentric) requirements of Chilli’s ”list.” And while browsing the aisles of TJ Maxx for bathroom effects, Chilli called EW.com and said finding the perfect companion was anything but a simple feat. She also dished on what’s next for TLC and life without her ”sister” Lisa ”Left Eye” Lopes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me a little bit about the show and how it came to be.
CHILLI: One of the producers on the show worked with TLC when we did R U the Girl (2005, UPN), and I guess kind of listening to me in conversation when I talk about guys and what I like and what I don’t like, obviously that piqued his interests. Some years later, we all got back together and, you know, me still being single — by my choice because I hadn’t found the perfect guy yet — was totally open to it. So it was great timing.
What can people expect from the show?
I think people kind of know me — although, I am pretty private when it comes to my private life. I think you’ll get a chance to see the elements of why I am the way that I am. I feel that so many women will be able to relate to how I feel and my views on life, which covers relationships, motherhood, working, things like that…. I think people are going to be excited to see some TLC footage. We show our performance that we did in Vegas [in 2009 for the ''Justin Timberlake & Friends'' charity concert]. That’s going to be a great highlight.
This show is a little different than some dating-centered shows on TV in that it really hasn’t been spun into a competition or game. Did you want it to be more straightforward than others?
Absolutely. That was very important for me because from the beginning of my career, I’ve always done things outside the box. And not necessarily just to stand out and be different, but you just want to do something great. Not only has [the show] been an amazing journey for me, but I think it will be very enlightening to women as well. I definitely encourage all women to have a list. [Laughs]. C’mon now. Even you, now. You better have a check list. If you don’t, after this conversation, go ahead and start writing down the things that you need and the things that you want [from a man]. I think that’s very important.
Speaking of the list, yours has some normal stuff on there: ”can’t drink,” ”can’t smoke,” etc. But I wanted to ask about the ”can’t eat pork” stipulation.
I’m very healthy. I’m into eating right and there are just some things to me, when you talk about eating right, you shouldn’t eat. [Laughs] That includes the cute little pig. I think he’s cute to look at, but I don’t know if I want to put him in my system.
What was the best piece of dating advice you were able to take away from the experience?
I would say probably being okay with letting go and not being in control of everything. Life shows us all the time, really and truly, that you’re not in control of most things, but at the same time, the things that you are able to control, you should definitely hold on to that. But it’s okay that you can’t control every aspect of your life.
Yeah, in some areas of a relationship. Like some people might be surprised — I don’t know why, but some will be — that I had some dates with white guys [on the show]. To me, men are men. I think that in that area, women — I don’t care what color you are — I think that’s a control thing also. But if there’s something you want and you need in your life, you have to let go and be open to everything. In staying so strong to certain things, you can miss out on the best thing that could ever happen to you.
You’ve dated a few celebrities in the past, like Usher. When you were looking for a man on the show, did you set out to find someone involved in show business or specifically not involved with it?
It really doesn’t matter as long as the guy is secure with himself. You know what I mean? That’s the most important part in dating, especially for women that already have their things together and take care of yourself. There are a lot of men, including celebrity men, who can’t handle stuff like that. I just want a guy that is secure with himself and is not intimidated by what I do and how I can provide for myself, because I don’t need a man for that nor have I ever looked for a man to just take care of me. I am self-sufficient, even before I got into TLC. I’m just independent like that; I’m ambitious.
Speaking of TLC, what’s coming up for you musically?
Well, T-Boz and I have a tour locked down that we’re doing in Japan and Malaysia. We have some other tours that we’re looking at for the States. TLC is always working. If I could just stay on stage and sing and dance and perform for everybody, if I could do that all day and all night, I would. I love it.
Are you working on any new material?
We are definitely in talks of doing new music. These days, you have to do it a lot differently than you did it even five years ago. The music industry has changed so, so much, which makes me thankful that we came out when we came out. It was just a better time than coming out today. I feel bad for some new artists, I really do, because the deals are very different. So much stuff is just different and not the same. And unfortunately, you can lose the whole quality of a great artist in how things are today. It’s hard. Before, you’d see so many artists who were just superstars, who really had what it takes to entertain people and make people feel like ”Wow, I can’t wait to pay $14 for this CD because I know I’m going to get my money’s worth.” Now that you have downloading and stuff, it’s all about singles.
Do you think if TLC had come out now that it would have taken off the way it did?
Honestly, I would have to say yes. And the reason I would say yes is because TLC is just one of those groups that God had a special plan for us. It had to be just the three of us. And because we were so different, each girl brought so much to this group. And then the topics we weren’t afraid to discuss, we took that chance. It was all coming from wanting to make a difference. There’s always room for that.
Do you think that’s missing from music?
Oh, absolutely it is. I don’t know, maybe we would have been even bigger if we [came out now], now that I think about it. [Laughs] People don’t even realize how thirsty they are for great lyrics. It just really makes a difference in how you feel when you listen to something positive.
It has been eight years since Lisa’s death [Lopes was killed in a 2002 car accident], has it given you all some time to get used to the change in dynamic?
I look at it like this: Yes, there will always be something missing because it’s not the three. But who can better carry on what we started other than T-Boz and myself? We understand what it is that we do. You have to figure out what it is that makes people fall in love with you, especially when it’s a good thing. You always have to try to reinvent yourself, but you don’t change the great quality of why people love you. So I would say that it will be different because you won’t hear our sister on there, but as far as the messages and what we stand for and what she stood for, that will be carried on. Definitely. That will not change.
Well, thank you for speaking with me.
Hey, wait! Promise me one thing.
You’re going to make your list.
Hah. I promise.
What are you promising?
That I will make my list.