It’s hard to believe 20-plus years have passed since three sprightly young women from Atlanta hit the scene with their baggy jeans and oversized personalities, singing and rapping about female empowerment. Fast-forward 22 years and they’re being portrayed on screen by another colorful batch of twentysomethings.
Drew Sidora, 28, Keke Palmer, 20, and Lil’ Mama, 24, portray Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes in the new VH1 biopic CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story. They spoke with ESSENCE.com about lessons learned from TLC and the most shocking things they found out about the group while making the biopic.
ESSENCE.com: You three have such great chemistry on and off screen.
All three respond by holding hands.
ESSENCE.com: So how much did you know about TLC?
Keke Palmer: I don’t think we knew that much about them when they were out, but we found out about them eventually. Like, I knew about TLC when “Scrubs” came out and I was like, ‘Wait, Chilli isn’t the lead singer?’ Then I found out about CrazySexyCool and their whole history.
Lil Mama: When we were younger and they out, it was more so about the music. I didn’t even know about the money issues because I was so in tune with their music.
Drew Sidora: My friends and I would wear the baggy clothes and oddly enough I was always T-Boz. I always felt a connection to her.
ESSENCE.con: Lil’ Mama, you really became Left-Eye in the movie.
Lil Mama: I really let myself be vulnerable which allowed me to honor her the best way I could.
ESSENCE.com: The movie gets pretty detailed about what the girls went through. I won’t spoil it but what, for you, was the most shocking thing you found out about TLC?
Palmer: The money issues. The first year, when they made Ooh..On the TLC Tip, we were like, okay we can see how they didn’t have any money then. But when it got to CrazySexyCool and they still had no money we were like, there’s no way they only made $50,000 within the span of three years. It was pretty mind-blowing for us.
ESSENCE.com: Like TLC, you’re also young women in the entertainment industry. What did you learn from their lives that you’d use in your own?
Palmer: Never giving up. All three of us, being in the industry, we know there are a lot of things that make you want to say, ‘Why do I do this again?’ But TLC taught me that you have to go through those hard moments to get to the good part. When it gets hardest is when you move forward.
Lil’ Mama: I’ve learned how to work with other people and have patience, because they had a lot of patience with Lisa. They all loved each other and took the time out to understand even when they didn’t want to. From the business side I learned that it’s important to be educated. And to know that this is a business.
ESSENCE.com: Since you three sing so well together. Would you three ever consider taking this show on the road as a trio?
Palmer: We never really thought about it. We all are singers and a rapper. That’s a thought.
ESSENCE.com: Why do you think we have no girl groups like a TLC nowadays?
Palmer: I think it’s because a lot of people stopped being authentic. These days people can tell that some girl groups are just smashed together. Like, Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child knew each other as kids. Girls want a girl group they can relate to.
Sidora: And TLC was so real and authentic. And that’s music as a whole. When it’s an artist and it comes from the heart and that’s really who you are, the fans attach to that. Now the industry is so much about marketing. We may like the songs
Lil’ Mama: I like the OMG Girlz. They’re real and they’re friends.
ESSENCE.com: Keke and Drew, what’s one piece of advice Chilli and T-Boz gave that you’ll keep with you?
Palmer: I just love Chilli’s spirit. She’s not the overbearing type and that told me a lot about who she was and how to take on her character. And also know what she had gone through and still have such a youthful spirit and not be jaded or bitter. That’s what I love and hope to be like when I get older.
Sidora: For me it’s Tionne’s fighting spirit. I see why she’s so cool. Doctor’s were telling her things like she’s not going to live to see a certain age or she can’t have children. And she was like, ‘No, that’s not what’s going to happen.’ She was not a victim.
CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story premieres on VH1 Monday, October 21 at 9PM EST.