Late on Monday, November 3, I got an email from TruTV publicist Brad Bernstein asking if I would be able to interview TLC's Rozonda "Chilli Thomas that next morning as she is currently promoting her place on the judges panel of TruTV's talent competition show, Fake Off. When phone calls or emails like this come through, I have learned to promptly throw my typical 48 hours' notice for journalistic preparation out the window. I immediately say "Yes, I'll do it!" and then jump into last minute survival mode. Pulling all-nighters to prepare for an interview isn't what it used to be for me, now as the mom of a 5 year old boy. But I must practice what I preach and I often preach that the difference between those who succeed and those who don't usually comes down to instinct and hard work; oh, and a blind disregard for a good night's sleep at times.
I set my alarm clock before bed and awoke at 3 AM the next morning to begin researching and crafting questions for my interview with the Sexy third of TLC's Crazy, Sexy, Cool... Chilli. People often ask me if I get nervous, excited, or "fill in the adjective here" before a celebrity interview. After ten years and close to two hundred of them, the answer is honestly, "No. Not in the way you're thinking." Here's why: I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so at Go Time the only thing on my mind is doing the best job possible - making the interview fun, dynamic and entertaining, and also making my interview subject feel comfortable and safe in the conversation. I always want it to be a positive experience for the person I'm interviewing, and I want my questions to be received in the good spirit in which they were written and are being asked.
That being said, Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and I covered a lot of ground during our chat, and she was such an accommodating and generous participant in our conversation. For the most part, interviewing celebrities is a job, but sometimes you make an authentic connection with another human being during an interview and it just serves to add a great layer and texture to the finished product. You walk away feeling that you spoke with a kindred spirit. Those are some of the best moments that have come out of this crazy leg of my career.
Chilli and I spoke about her reality competition show on TruTV, Fake Off, and how judging the talented performance troupes on the show, with all of their splendid theatrics and special FX, has actually inspired some ideas in her for TLC's next tour. We talked about being single moms of boys and what we learn from our sons on a daily basis; her crusade to save teenage girls from low self-esteem; how awestruck she is by all of the A-list recording artists who count themselves as TLC fans; and how much of the details of TLC's comeback album are still tightly under wraps... for now. Here are some moments from our interview:
Describing the television show Fake Off and Gaining Inspiration for TLC's Next Tour -
"The reason [the show] is called Fake Off is because the groups are given themes from iconic concepts, movies, cartoons, television shows, and stuff that everyone's familiar with. Then they have to put their best 'Fake' on it. You know when you watch something and you feel like, 'Wow! That was almost just like the original!?' That's what the art of Faking is. It's not necessarily what their gifts are, but it's how they are entertaining you; the way they do it... I look at some of those elements like the shadowing and the lighting and stuff like that. I'm definitely interested in that as far as [TLC's] show on stage, because I saw a lot of things in these performances that could take our show to the next level."
On Overcoming Her Own Adolescent Self-Esteem Issues -
"Being the smallest one; that was always an issue for me. I didn't care about the height part, but when I was in eighth grade I remember you had a few [girls] with the boobs and the hips and stuff. I used to drink this weight gain drink. It was this powder you mix with milk (laughs). I would get up every morning to see if I had gained any weight, and that never happened for me. I was a late bloomer, and that was my issue growing up. Now I love my small boobs and I have for many years. I'm alright with myself."
On Raising Her Now Teenage Son, Tron Austin (Dad is Famed Music Producer, Dallas Austin) -
"The teenage years are my least favorite, though my son is phenomenal. He does not get in trouble and he's not a bad kid. But the fact that they think they know so much... They just have to go through certain things, become more mature and get that wisdom. You want to shield them from all the bad, but you can't do that.
"[And] he definitely has the music bug. It's in his DNA, he couldn't help it, I guess (laughs). I just wanted to wait and see what he would show me. I didn't guide him into this, although he's been around it his whole life. He's a drummer, he writes music and he's really good."
As an aside, Chilli asked me about my own 5 year old son, and she then said, "Just love that boy, and I need you to get him hooked on WWE. It's so good!"
Yeah. I need my son practicing wrestling moves in my house like I need a hole in the head!
Chilli Gushes Over Her Famous Fans -
"Michael Jackson had the What About Your Friends dance in Remember The Time. I was totally in love with Michael Jackson, so to see that, I couldn't breathe! Or Prince saying, 'TLC is my favorite group,' and you're like, 'What?!' Bette Midler, as iconic as she is, she covered Waterfalls, and she said some really sweet words in an interview recently. That is crazy to me! It's been good on so many levels when anybody says those things about us, because it continues to justify certain things. We're so happy that we did not go against what we really wanted to do or say. Sometimes those things got us in trouble, but I think the majority of the time it worked for us. The fact that it inspired people or caught their attention just means everything."
Chilli Continues to Have a Recurring Dream about the Late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes -
"I've had dreams where in the dream she's alive. But it's crazy, because in my dream I know that she passed away but when I see her I'm like, 'Oh My God! We have to let everybody know that you're alive!' It's like that. I haven't had one of those dreams in a few months, but that's how it is when I dream about her. Her passing was definitely one of those times when I hoped she was pranking us. She would do stuff like that. She would just go missing. That was the one time I would have been alright with it if it had been that. Unfortunately, it was not."
Watch Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas on "Fake Off," airing on TruTV, Mondays at 10/9c.