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She was one-third of the 90s all-girl mega-group TLC, and now T-Boz is on TLC, the cable network.
You could say it’s the latest twist in an eventful life for Tionne Watkins, who has spent more than two decades in the music business. During that time, she fought her way to fame, silently battled sickle-cell anemia — and, more recently, a near-fatal brain tumor — and mourned the tragic death of friend and groupmate Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes.
Indeed, despite a diagnosis that she would not live past 30, T-Boz has certainly defied the odds — gathering strength from her faith and family, especially daughter Chase, who she’s determined “to be here for.”
T-Boz talks to The Hollywood Reporter about broadcasting her life on reality TV, her new business ventures, and why today’s music business “sucks.”
The Hollywood Reporter: How did you initially keep a medical scare like a brain tumor under wraps from the media?
T-Boz: I went under alias names with all of my doctors. It was something I felt was personal and needed to get through on my own without having to answer questions or have anyone feeling sorry for me or just people being nosy. I needed to try to survive, so the best way to do that is not to talk about it. Since I felt like I was spared, now I think maybe I’m supposed to share my story in hopes of helping someone else not go through what I went through. Also, to let people know it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. There are other ways around certain things, and you can be healthy. Miracles happen every day — I’m one!
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THR: Tell us about your recent move to Los Angeles — was it primarily to pursue a solo career?
T-Boz: It’s not just about a music career…I didn’t come here just to sing, I can do that anywhere. There are movies I write and other artists I write for… like ATL was the first film I executive produced. It was also written about my life growing up in the hood at the skating rink, and T.I. played Dallas Austin, TLC’s main producer, and Lauren London played me. So I do a lot of other things behind the scenes, which I love doing, and a lot of the deals are made here in L.A. I was like, let me move out here and pursue some other things so I’m just not in the business of music. I’d rather call it the entertainment business, and that’s what I’m trying to get into.
THR: Are you hoping that your reality show brings awareness to some of the medical dilemmas you’ve faced?
T-Boz: Of course. Any avenue that you can use to bring awareness is a good thing, and it’s helping so far. I’ve received so many tweets and letters already about people who’ve come out about their brain tumor and asked me questions about it. Sickle-cell patients are happy that I spoke up about it, too. I’ve always been told even if you reach just one person, that’s better than nothing.
THR: On the first episode of your show Totally T-Boz viewers saw you clash with former group mate Chili about going on tour rather than doing reality TV. What is your current relationship with Chili?
T-Boz: Our relationship is totally fine. You will always have disagreements — like with any family and friendship, you have to come to some type of agreement, or respectfully agree to disagree. She wants to tour until she’s 65, I don’t! Like she said, it’s about getting healthier… Yeah, that helps, but at the end of the day, I still have a disease I was born with. I still have the same blood. Yes, I will tour, but not as much as I used to. I’m not going to break down my body or allow anyone to talk me into it for the sake of this business, because my daughter is the only person that I care to be here for.
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THR: You’ve been in the business 20-plus years. What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed?
T-Boz: The record business sucks! [Laughs] It’s never going to be the same. That’s why all of us who care are starting to do other things. I love music, don’t get me wrong, [but] whether it’s illegal downloads or whatever they want to blame it on, that’s why a lot of record companies shut down, or merge together. They just aren’t the same, records aren’t the same. Artists like Adele, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, Drake or whomever — it shows that records do sell. That it can be done. Great music, timeless music is hard to come by, but there are some that are like that. The song Sia wrote for Rihanna, [“Diamonds”] that you’ll hear in the elevator or in the grocery store — It’s a feel-good song. Those kind of songs last — your “Waterfalls” or “Unpretty” — but there’s a lot of this “just for the times” music out now, but they don’t last and then everybody’s on the next thing. So I don’t think it will ever be the same, but great music and great musicians still exist.
THR: Knowing how much the music industry has changed, that doesn’t deter you from wanting to start a solo career?
T-Boz: Honestly, I could have been deterred from the get-go, because there were a lot of girl groups out back then, but there’s enough money for everybody — it’s just how you choose to get it and what you’re willing to do to get it. Now, I won’t conform for a paycheck or do all these other reality shows, but at the end of the day, there’s always room for songs like “Unpretty” and helping people feel better. My mind isn’t just set on music. My brother and I have a company, and we’re doing soundtracks for movies and different things. Just because I’m not dancing on a video every five seconds doesn’t mean I’m not working. I’m not camera-happy, so being behind the camera is OK with me, because being on TV ain’t that hard these days. What matters is, are you doing something of substance? What will you remember about me when I die? How will I leave my legacy? Did I make a change? Did I help anyone? Did I do something that has a purpose? I think about things like that. And 20 years later, feel blessed because I’ve had a great career with TLC. People could have been like, “Oh, forget you,” but the love has been amazing.
Totally T-Boz airs Tuesday nights on TLC.
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