Ahead of the release of Lifetime’s new documentary, TLC Forever, Chilli is reflecting on her relationship with Usher, whom she dated from 2001-2004.
When they split, their breakup was a hot topic because of the timing of his album, Confessions, which featured a series of songs that alluded to him cheating and impregnating another woman despite being in a relationship at the time. But Chilli insists that she wasn’t the subject of his songs.
"I was with him at the studio that whole time,” she told PEOPLE.
Chilli also reflected on why they didn’t work out, citing their differences and the pressure from fans to stay together.
"It looked great, but in real life ... he knew he had to be a certain way with me and he couldn't,” she explained.
Despite their public breakup in 2004, she revealed the couple had maintained an on again, off again relationship for several years, only cutting ties, finally, in 2019. She says after that final split, she stopped dating and took time to focus on herself.
"I even stopped dating,” she said. “Because before that I thought if I met the right guy during that time that I wasn't over Usher it wouldn't work. I would never want to straddle the fence."
While she did the responsible thing of being true to herself, despite the time that it took, it’s an interesting thing to note the pressure she felt from fans who were rooting for her and Usher’s relationship. It makes you wonder how many celebrity couples out there are hanging by a thread made up of a mix of pressure and support.
It’s something we see in families all the time, not wanting to be divorced, not wanting to be the one that can’t make a relationship work or not wanting to be the only unmarried one in the family. So the fact that she’s being open about that pressure that exists from complete strangers as a celebrity is relatable, even for non-famous people.
It’s also interesting that she’s talking about the pressure she felt in the early 2000s, before social media. With more celebrities sharing candid, intimate moments of their personal lives, it’s allowed fans greater access to celebrities, and with that comes a greater sense of entitlement.
When you look at the hoopla caused by Vanderpump Rules' biggest scandal yet, and the ripple effect that the affair between Tom Sandoval and Rachel Leviss has had, it’s a prime example of that entitlement. Fans of Ariana Madix have downed the ratings of the restaurants owned by Tom, impacting the lives of just about every one of his employees. And those same people have just about run Rachel out of the state of California. People get cheated on every single day, but when you’re famous, it’s so much more visible.
It speaks to the parasocial element of all this. As much as I love reality TV and feel personally connected to the people who have shared their lives with us for years, I have to remember that even when they’re sharing a lot, there are still so many things we don’t see and don’t know. But because we get caught up in the suspension of disbelief, we forget that, and forget they exist outside of who they are when the cameras are on.
It makes me wonder how Chilli and Usher’s breakup would’ve unfolded if they split during the days of Instagram or TikTok. Especially if that bombshell album was dropped within months of that split. I remember the theories about who the other woman was, whether Chilli knew, how she must have felt - it truly was the talk of the town. And what did it do in the end? Drive album sales.
Confessions debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 1.1 million copies in its first week. According to Billboard, there are only 17 albums that sold 1 million in a single week. The album spent nine weeks in the number 1 spot on the Billboard 200. And three songs from the album, “Yeah!,” “Burn” and “Confessions Part II” all reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
In the same way that Usher’s personal mess drove album sales, Scandoval drama has driven ratings for Vanderpump Rules. A combined 4.1 million viewers tuned into the finale, which is record-breaking for the series. People love personal mess. And they love it even more when it comes from celebrities.
Chilli taking time to herself after her split from Usher was not only an incredibly responsible thing to do, but an efficient thing to do, because she’s fallen in love again. She said that time apart from dating helped prepare her for true love, which she’s found with the very attractive '90s teen heartthrob Matthew Lawrence.
"He wants to be the best guy he can be and who God wants him to be," she says. "God-willing one day we'll get married."
Not only is Chilli’s story a reminder of just how much people are attracted to personal mess, but it’s a story of hope for people who feel like love may not be in the cards for them, despite the desire for it. She is 52 years old. She just admitted to spending 19 years in a fluctuating relationship with a man. And she’s revealed that she has now found the love of her life and would like to marry him someday. If there’s hope for Chilli, maybe there’s hope for all of us, if that’s what we desire.