Die-hard TLC fans have been privy to all the behind-the-scenes drama about the best-selling girl group in the U.S. However, ahead of the iconic trio’s new documentary TLC Forever, which will premiere simultaneously on A&E Network and Lifetime, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas is sharing that she was nearly kicked out of the group.
During an exclusive interview with People, Chilli recalled the moment when she auditioned for the group in 1991. At the time, she was a dancer with LaFace Records’ first group, Damian Dame. She sang En Vogue’s hit, “Hold On” after which her now bandmate Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins dryly replied, “Oh, she’s pretty.” After proceeding to the next part of the audition — an onstage performance with T-Boz and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes — their chemistry was “immediate.”
Upon joining the group, Left-Eye gave her the nickname Chilli to save the group’s moniker TLC, which was formed from the initials of original members Tionne, Lisa and Crystal Jones. While recording their debut album, Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, Chilli caught the eye of LaFace producer Dallas Austin, who co-wrote most of TLC’s biggest hits, including “What About Your Friends” and “Unpretty.” She and Austin began dating, but once then-manager Pebbles learned of their romance, it almost cost Chilli her well-earned spot in the group.
“They were holding auditions to replace me but never saw anybody that they liked,” she told People. “I don’t think anybody cared about the Dallas thing but Pebbles.” Together, Chilli and Austin share a son, Tron, who is 25 years old.
During the People interview, Chilli also recalled the time when she wanted Left-Eye out of the group. In June 1994, Lopes famously torched the Atlanta mansion of her then-boyfriend, former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison. “Tionne called and said, ‘Turn on channel 5!'” Chilli told the outlet. “I was like ‘Tionne, we’re just gonna have to find another group member.’ I told Lisa I said that. I was mad.”
About five months later, the trio released their best-selling album, CrazySexyCool, which spawned the No. 1 singles “Creep” and “Waterfalls,” as well as solidified their enviable status as one of the best-selling girl groups of all time.
Throughout the ’90s, TLC pressed on, working through well-documented financial woes and record label battles. But in 2002, the group’s world turned upside down when Left-Eye died in a car accident in Honduras while on a spiritual retreat. “I miss her every day,” Chilli said. “I often wonder what things would have been like if she was still here.”
T-Boz and Chilli are currently headlining the Hot Summer Nights Tour with Shaggy through July, a testament to the strength of their unbreakable bond. Their forthcoming documentary, TLC Forever, premieres on June 3 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime and A&E Network. Check out the trailer below: