Right off the bat, T-Boz and Chilli of the Grammy-winning group TLC want to make one thing very, very clear: The objective of R U the Girl (premiering tonight at 8pm/ET on UPN) is not to replace the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. "We have said several times that we're not looking for a third member," insists Chilli. "Why is it that we're consistently asked that question?"
Well, for one, R U the Girl arrives on the heels of Rock Star: INXS, which is aiming to fill the Aussie rock group's vacancy. Secondly, Girl's press release itself says the singing competition's winner will perform live then record a single with the other two ladies. So please excuse the confusion.
"The thing is, we have never wanted to put anybody in our group. Ever," says T-Boz. "[The show] is basically just an opportunity to give a fan a chance to do one song and a performance with us. It was never about us putting anybody new [in TLC]."
In fact, putting the kibosh on that very notion was a deal-breaker in the duo's dealings with producers. "We were cool with doing the show," says Chilli, "but we didn't want them to think it was about [finding] a replacement. That was the only way we would do it."
That issue certainly is settled. Regardless of the winning Girl's fate, how will T-Boz and Chilli sift through the parade of pop diva wannabes? In addition to having the ability to sing, dance and rap, "we like people who are different individuals, trendsetters in their own right," says T-Boz. "And personality matters a lot. Especially being in a girl group, you have to learn to agree to disagree and respect one another."
Not that the winner is joining the girl group TLC. Remember that.
In fact, R U the Girl's winner need not even be a girl. "We did have a few guys come out to audition," Chilli shares with a laugh. "I don't know what he thought he was auditioning for, but he didn't make it. But if it was somebody that was incredible, then, shoot — a challenge is a challenge."
R U the Girl, meanwhile, faces the challenge of breaking through this summer's onslaught of music- and dancing-themed reality contests. "Throughout our whole career, people have copied us — the way that we dress, our sound, our look, everything," notes Chilli. "So we have always considered ourselves to be trendsetters, and we're taking that to our television show by doing things very differently." Adds T-Boz, "When you see the show, you will see a lot of us. We're the ones auditioning [the contestants]; we're the ones judging them. It's really us doing it all."
And if all goes as hoped, they will do it all better than even the genre's juggernaut. "[American Idol] is great for putting people on the map in a faster way, with a [built-in] following," says T-Boz. "But they aren't teaching you how to work the stage and be an artist.
"But hey, Ruben, a black boy won," she points out. "I was loving that!" — Additional reporting by Rochell D. Thomas