The legendary Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins stopped by for a chat with Jason Lee and DJ Damage at Hollywood Unlocked: Uncensored for a catch up with the guys about her monumental career so far, as well as an update on what she’s doing now to build on her ever-growing legacy.
Tionne didn’t hold back and spoke her mind, which is what we love about her! Some people may not be aware, but despite the super success of TLC, when they tragically lost Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in 2002, the industry lost faith in the girls’ ability to continue successfully as a group, including their very own record label boss, L.A. Reid, who signed them to LaFace Records in 1991.
“When Lisa died, the whole industry turned on us. Everybody. They were like, ‘it’s over for them, they’re never gonna do it again'”, Tionne admits. “I kept saying, nah bro, that still doesn’t hinder my talent and my passion to sing and dance — it’s in my soul. You just have to find that one person to say yes, and find your new normal. We all know that it’s never going to be the same again, but you find your new normal and that’s what Lisa would have wanted us to do. And I have kids to feed, so why would I stop? It’s TLC forever, whether she’s physically here or not”.
TLC also had to prove themselves to tour promoters to show them that they can still put on a ground-breaking, energetic live show. Tionne gives props to VH1, who gave them a shot and hired them for the VH1 Superbowl Blitz in 2014, which was a televised concert that allowed the world to see exactly what a TLC show looks like. Little did we know that acts like Drake, Nelly and T.I. pulled out on the girls before the show, but they proved that they could rock a complete concert on their own.
“Doug E. Fresh came through and Misty Copeland”, Tionne says. “I was like, maybe God wanted it this way, so that we can prove to people that we don’t need nobody else to rock a show”. Tionne has her suspicions that other artists possibly doubted them too. “I sometimes wonder was it because you don’t know if you’re gonna look sucker free Sunday standing next to us if it may be over, or you just don’t wanna be a part of that. But it’s all good, because it turned out exactly the way it was supposed to be — that was one of the best concerts, and we got the highest ratings, and that’s what put us on the map, again. Everyone and their mama started calling us to perform again after that, when they saw that we can still do it”.
When times got tough in her career, Tionne quickly found out who was truly there for her, and who was only there to take advantage when things are going good. “If you ever got really sick in the hospital, or had a death in the family, there’s certain times in life when you see who really has your back and who does not — we’re basically a dollar sign, and you never really cared in the first place”, Tionne explains. The only industry figures that really cared are her friends Leslie Braithwaite, Shanti Das and Kawan “KP” Prather.
Tionne touched on how she is coping with managing her TLC career during the current Covid-19 crisis. “They want me to do a virtual show. TLC is supposed to shoot something too, but I’m like, ain’t nobody coming up in here”, Tionne reveals. “We did a show with CW and the iHeart network [Iconic: TLC]. They sent me a big trunk, because I was like, no, the sound guy can’t come, you label it [jokingly sings the alphabet]. I put it together — I did good though!”.
Tionne has serious reasons for needing to take social distancing seriously, aside from her own health, in which her immune system is already compromised because of her sickle cell disease, but she also has to make sure her mom Gayle and daughter Chase Rolison are kept safe also because of their health conditions. “I’ve got a pre-existing condition, I ain’t trying to die! My mom was dealing with cancer, and my daughter has two diseases — sjogren’s, which is a cousin to Lupus — and Lupus, from which she almost lost her life at the beginning of year. She was in the hospital for almost ten months”, Tionne says. “So, I can’t take any chances on anything, so I’ve been a hermit. I’ve seen so many movies it’s ridiculous”.
Any good TLC fan knows that the girls are mommies first before anything else, and Tionne is having an amazing time raising her kids Chase, 19, and her son, Chance, 5. “It’s amazing — I just turned 50, which I was told I couldn’t, ever. I’m proud to tell people my age, I was told I would die by 30, I would be disabled and I wouldn’t have kids and I’ve superceded all of that”, Tionne says. “I was happy [to reach 50]. Chilli won’t even pick up the phone [on her birthdays] so you can’t wish her happy birthday. She is not happy! She changes her number like hot cakes”.
Tionne has always wanted a son and even kept a box of clothes for a boy, so Chance has truly been a gift in Tionne’s life. “I always said that I wanted a son, and I would have a box of clothes and people would say, ‘girl, you’re so crazy’, and I would say, no, when I have my son, he’s going to wear this”, Tionne reveals. “God made that baby for me, trust me on this. He looks just like me, everything about him is just like us. So, I know that God tailor-made him for me, and I had been asking him for years. I opened that box and my baby put wore those clothes just like I said. So, I believe in words and manifesting things into existence. He keeps me young because he’s fun — he’s a character”.
She is now planning her return to ATL after living in LA for years. “I move back to Atlanta next month [November]. For a lot of reasons — I have more of a support system there”, Tionne admits. “I don’t like the earth moving and swaying, I don’t like running from fires.. I don’t like it. I never liked LA”.
On the ever-popular topic of Verzuz, Tionne reiterates that she would prefer to go up against a male group, as she feels no other girl group could compare to their style. “We always competed with guys — we never looked at women as competition. Apart from maybe Aaliyah, there were no other women out with swag like that”, Tionne admits. “I don’t think there will be another TLC. There will never be another T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli. We had a chemistry that was so special, that’s why we would never replace Lisa. No heffa belongs in between us two.”
Tionne praises Destiny’s Child and reveals that she was actually supposed to choreograph for them when they were the Baby Dolls, but she had to go on tour. “I always knew Beyoncé was going to be Beyoncé, though! I could tell Beyoncé was the star”, Tionne admits. She also feels that if TLC were to do Verzuz with another girl group, Destiny’s Child would be a good fit. “I don’t know if Beyoncé would do it, but Kelly might, I don’t know. For some reason, Swizz Beats and Timbaland are not biting on it. The fans started it more, so it’s not like I said ‘hey, can I do one?’. But to me it’s just a friendly competition, it’s just a time to make people happy in a crazy world with covid right now and it makes people feel good”
Tionne also reveals that she has filmed an upcoming epsiode of ‘Drop The Mic‘ with DJ Cassidy. “He did all the old school first and all the rappers like MC Lyte and Doug E. Fresh, Rob Bass. They were rapping over the tracks on Zoom, it was awesome”.
Tionne loves the TLC Army fans! And although she doesn’t always understand why fans like to see TLC shows multiple times, she reveals some of reasons that makes them stick around. “One of them wore [a shirt] ‘this is my 33rd concert’, and I was like, what would make someone see someone 33 times, I don’t understand?”, Tionne says. “So, I asked her she said because our lyrics saved her life or I’ve heard something we said in an interview that stopped them taking their own lives. They said our music makes them feel good at the time that they needed it, and that makes them want to come back”.
She said she gets to connect with fans when they tell her things during meet and greets, although she’s unsure if she will still do meets in the future because of the coronavirus outbreak. “We do meet and greets before the concerts, which probably will never happen again, don’t want nobody touching me and giving me cooties since Covid been out! So, I’m not going to do anymore of those, so just know that!”