Since Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story premiered last week on VH1, the biopic about beloved 90s superstar girl group TLC has caused a fair amount of controversy. With it’s backstage tales of shifty managers, financial trouble and infidelity, it was bound to ruffle a few feathers. One individual who was important to the real TLC story is Crystal Jones. Jones founded TLC (originally 2nd Nature) with Tionne Watkins and Lisa Lopes, the future T-Boz and Left-Eye, but was unceremoniously ousted early on in favor of Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas. The film portrays Jones as a talentless footnote to the group’s beginnings. She spoke to RO about the way the film portrayed TLC and her history.
“I was disappointed in the way that they portrayed me and to be honest with you, after I saw the first 20 minutes I wasn’t too interested in watching the rest,” she admits, and says that she wasn’t a part of the production. “[I wasn’t] contacted at all. I only found out through social media what was going on.”
“The way they portrayed [our start] was just a Hollywood story,” she continues. “We did not audition in front of LA Reid at his office at Laface Records. We auditioned in front of Pebbles at Seriously Sound studios. At the time Jermaine Dupri was our producer and he produced a track for us called “I Got It Goin’ On.’”
And while the film makes it seem as though Jones was ousted because she couldn’t perform, she says she became a problem once she began asking questions about contracts and money. “As far as my being out of the group, that happened at a lawyer’s office–when we were there to sign our contracts,” she recalls. “Keep in mind we’re 18 and 19 years old, we didn’t have any of our own representation. So it was just us. At that time, we were managed by Ian Burke, but Pebbles had begun her manipulations to get us from under his management.”
“I didn’t understand [the contract] and I turned to Pebbles and I asked if I could take mine home and have my mom look it over and she said “absolutely not,'” Jones continues. “So I chose not to sign my contract, thinking in my head there would be a little loyalty; maybe they’ll ask me why and Tionne and Lisa would say ‘What’s up? Why won’t you sign it?” But no one questioned it. No one ever asked. After that, it was just straight downhill. They kept having meetings without me and all of a sudden, they told me they didn’t want me in the group anymore.”
“I actually started getting inquisitive around the time that Pebbles started buying clothes for us and taking us out to eat,” she says. “I was already privy to the industry and I asked Pebbles a question at one of the dinners. I asked if the dinner was coming out of our advance. I was already in the know about the business side. I thought there would be some loyalty. They tried to make it look like I wasn’t interested and they came up with all these excuses. We didn’t know each other before all of this. We were just getting to know each other. During [the time] around the contract issue, they started distancing themselves from me. They would fly out of town with Pebbles. They did the video [for Pebbles’ single] ‘Backyard’ and if you look you’ll see them in the back, but I’m not there. The reason why is they told me at the last minute. I was a new mom, I’d just had a four month old baby. They told me within hours of leaving and I couldn’t go. They started doing stuff like that.”
Jones had been working towards a career in music since before TLC, having toured with DJ Chuck Chillout and worked with Jermaine Dupri and his father, Michael Mauldin. But after she was kicked out of the group, she struggled to find a place and eventually walked away from music. “I just decided to walk away because I had to be a mom. I was devastated. After that, I did try other situations but couldn’t come up with the same mix. Everybody in Atlanta around that time knew what had happened. It was a little depressing for a while, to see them go on and see my idea come to fruition and not get any credit. It was hard.”
“I was 19 and I didn’t have much of an education, so I had to do what I had to do to survive. I didn’t have much schooling, so I had to take jobs that would take me. I started doing things I shouldn’t have been doing, working at certain clubs to make ends meet. Trying to survive as a mom.”
Now, 20 years later, Jones has found peace with her past and her life has stabilized tremendously. She says that she’s grown more spiritual, which gave her a different perspective on her role in TLC’s history.
“I now look at it as a blessing. I may not have been the right match at the time,” she says. “But I now know that God had a different purpose for me and that just wasn’t it. There’s no telling where my life would’ve ended up had I signed that contract.”