Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas is still the sweet-smiling girl you know and love from the mega-selling group TLC. In fact, she’s better. She’s dealt with her share of fair trials and tragedy, and is ready to shake it off, strike out on her own and embrace new triumphs that life brings her way. Here, the down-to-earth diva talks about her new album, the joys of motherhood, the romance rumors, and her secrets to success within the industry.
Clutch: So what all does Miss Chilli have going on these days?
Chilli: I’m very excited about my new single, “Dumb Dumb Dumb.” Right now I have a contest going on; I’m looking for a “Dumb Dumb Dumb” dance for the hook. People have been submitting videos to YouTube, but I’m still looking. So far everyone has to given me some real creativity.
Clutch: Tell us a little about your new album.
Chilli: The whole album is a dance album. I have a couple ballads. I like ballads, they’re not my favorite because I’m a performer, but there are a few on there. It’s definitely a girl powered-theme throughout. And that’s one thing about me–the fans will see a consistency. I’m doing the stuff that I did with TLC, having the uplifting songs and things of that nature. It was who we were then and who we are today. It wasn’t just a fad or gimmick.
Clutch: We see you’re dabbling in the world of fashion accessories with your Bags by Chili line. How did you get started creating handbags?
Chilli: It was something I had thought about for a long time. My first bag was given as a gift, and the person who had given it to me wasn’t doing them anymore. So I did a lot of research on starting my own company, and I’m very proud of myself! I carry my bags every day.
Clutch: When did the company officially launch?
Chilli: The first launch was right before thanksgiving, but the research took awhile. Whatever you do, it’s always a reflection of you, so I had to get everything right.
Clutch: Switching gears, let’s talk about motherhood. You have the most adorable photos of you and your son, Tron, on your Web site. Do you ever look at him and wonder where the time went?
Chilli: Yes! He’s ten years old now, and when Fanmail came out back in ’99, he wasn’t even a year old. But Tron totally knows what his mommy does; he even has fans of his own! I think I was born to be a mom and he’s definitely one of the best gifts that god has given me.
Clutch: Now, you’ve graced the small and big screen a time or two in your career. Are you working on any acting projects?
Chilli: I prefer television more so than the big screen. I like the time and how it works. It’s better for a working mom. Big screen takes you away from your family. When you’re shooting a movie you can’t tell them, “Now you have to start at this time because Tron’s still in school.” But television is something I really enjoy. I totally enjoy comedy; just let me get up there and act a fool!
Clutch: It’s been six years since the passing of your friend and band mate Left Eye. Unfortunately, you had to go through this very difficult time in the public eye. How hard was it for you to continue on personally and professionally?
Chilli: That was a very trying period because we didn’t get a chance to grieve properly. At that time T-Boz and I didn’t watch TV, listen to the radio . . . anything. We started out as a group doing 3D, and she passed before the album was done. So we had to go back into the studio and finish the album. It was very difficult for us to really accept something like that. Not until a few years ago have I been able to talk about her like she’s gone; I would still speak of her like she was here. But time heals everything. We’ll never get over the fact that she’s not here, but in time you can accept it better.
Clutch: You have such a laid back, very easy going attitude for someone who has millions of fans, sold out arenas, toured the world over, and was part of the biggest girl groups of all time. How do you stay grounded and not let this crazy industry get to you?
Chilli: I always tell people, you can learn from others mistakes and you don’t have go through everything. In this industry, I’ve seen people go through their ups and downs. You can’t get caught up in the hype of success. You have to look at it and use it for what it’s worth . . .and just don’t be rude. I never think of myself as being above someone. I can’t say I’ve never gone off on people, but when I did, I regretted it. But I’m no different from any other strong Christian woman who wants to do the right thing. I get that from my mother; she raised me to be that way. I have respect for myself and love for God. When you have morals like that, even if you stray away, it’s going to bring you back.
Clutch: You also went through a very public breakup with a certain male R&B star. And after all these years, people are still obsessed with the details surrounding it. Why do you think that is?
Chilli: I think because we were just that couple that people like so much. Usher and I just looked so cute together (chuckle)! So it’s hard for people to let that go. What people don’t understand is that in any relationship you have your ups and your downs. Sometimes people are good for you for a certain period of time. What’s that Iyanla Vanzant saying, people are put into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime; it wasn’t for a lifetime, but it was definitely longer than a season? It used to get on my nerves when people asked me about it, but not anymore. Until this day I’ll be in the mall and people will say, “Usher’s stupid!” But I just go on about my day.
Clutch: Our society has become increasingly obsessed with celebrity-gossip in the past years, which of course, it helps drive magazine sales and boost TV ratings. And it seems as though some celebs actually welcome the negative attention it brings. Do you ever think that we’ll ever get over being immersed in every detail of the celebrity lifestyle?
Chilli: I don’t ever think we’ll ever get to that point. It seems like we’ve lost our morals. And journalists can ask all the questions and have no feelings, no care in the world [on] how that other person feels. But until it happens to you as a journalist, that’s when you understand. There have been times when I’ve done interviews and I would get grilled, and I would turn around and ask them the same questions and say, “Hey, you wanted to know, so I want to know, too!” But do I think it will go away, no. Do I wish that it would, yes. My advice is to try and keep your personal life as private as you can. I still don’t understand celebs who feed into that. There are certain restaurants where the paparazzi will be and you’ll go there with the person you’re dating . . . because you want to be out there. So you can’t pick and choose when you want the media to be your friends and when you don’t.
Clutch: OK. . . forgive me for this, but in the same breath, I have to ask a personal question! We’ve heard little mumblings of you being romantically linked to a certain superstar boxer—just friends or more than friends?
Chilli: And I know you’re talking about Floyd Mayweather! Floyd and I are just friends. It’s unfortunate that as a woman, when you’re seen with man you can’t just be friends and hang out. I think he’s a great person, but he’s definitely not my man.
Clutch: Is there anyone throwing their hat in the ring to be with Miss Chilli (no pun intended)?
Chilli: I’m dating. I go on dates here and there. But have I met a guy that sweeps me off my feet and has the qualities on my long list of requirements? No.
Clutch: Fair enough! Now, your reality show, R U The Girl, gave us hope that a new TLC album would be in the works. Should fans still be on the lookout for a new album, or is it an up in the air kind of thing?
Chilli: Well, you know, T-boz and I talk about doing another TLC record. And if it’s something that we want to do, we’ll do it. But I’m not sure when that will happen, unfortunately.
Clutch: By the way, what is O’so Krispie up to?
Chilli: Oh, she lives in LA, doing a lot of choreography for people. She’s very talented and doing her thing.
Clutch: You’ve accomplished so much in your short life, what can you say have been your biggest accomplishments?
Chilli: Oh man, quite a few things. When I first got in TLC I used to tell them that I wanted us to be the biggest girl group ever. And when that happened, I almost fainted. That was an amazing accomplishment. The fact that we have touched so many lives, women and their self esteem, it’s like, “Man, we did that!” It’s probably two fans who’ve really stood out to me. There was a lady that came up to me in the grocery store with tears in her eyes. She told me that when “Unpretty” came out, she was contemplating killing herself. I just stood there and hugged her and told her that nothing was worth killing herself for and that you just have to go to God. There was also a lady who came up to me once and said she was thinking about getting breast implants–for a guy. But when she saw my part in the video, she decided against it because it wasn’t something she wanted to do for herself. We touch so many lives and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I want people to always remember Chilli as the girl who wanted to help and did help. I am also developing my own nonprofit organization, Chilli’s Crew. It goes back to what I’ve been doing the past 17 years–helping young women and girls with self-esteem, loving themselves and helping them to succeed
Clutch: Any regrets or moments that you’ve looked back on and said, “What was I thinking?”
Chilli: I mean, shoot, I have a whole list! But because of those things it’s shaped and molded me into the woman I am today. As you live, you’ll continue to learn and grow. But as long as I’m not an old fool, I’m good. An old fool goes through stuff and never learns from it. I had a friend who was always complaining about things. Ten years later, she was still complaining about the same stuff. I had to clean house and get rid of her. I told her I couldn’t be her friend anymore because that’s not how I want to live my life.
Clutch: Lastly, what can your fans look forward to from you in the near future?
Chilli: We don’t have an album release date as of yet, but it will definitely be the end of summer/early fall. I really want people to get on the “Dumb, Dumb, Dumb” dance. I need that in my life, so send in those videos!