VH1 gave Usher the “Behind the Music” treatment Monday night. Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, his ex girlfriend, is amazing in the special, giving great quotes.
Here’s a recap in case you missed it:
It’s June 2010, Usher is shooting his video in Malibu for “There Goes My Baby.”
He mentions how much he loves women and loving being single.
“I’m not saying I’m 100% giving up on love,” he said, “but I’m not rushing to get married any time soon.”
Jonnetta Patton, Usher’s mom, raised him in Chattanooga. His bad-boy, drugged-up father left when Usher was a baby. Usher had no contact with his dad. “I can remember still wondering, ‘Am I not good enough? Does he not want to know me? Doesn’t he know we have the same name?… I’d write him but couldn’t make that connection. He was always at arm’s reach but I couldn’t get to it.”
He sang at his mom’s choir. At age 10, he joined a local boy band New Beginnings. “That’s when I saw star potential,” Jonnetta said.
In 1990, she moved him to Atlanta to give him a better chance to be discovered. The special shows video of him at an Atlanta talent search singing Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” He won. “I was a ham,” he said. Bryant Reid, an A&R rep at LaFace, said Usher blew him away. “He had that intangible, that it factor.”
L.A. Reid, head of LaFace, said Usher charmed the girls at his office. He quickly got a deal. In August, 1993, a 14-year-old Usher released his first single off the “Poetic Justice” soundtrack “Call Me a Mack.” He met Chilli of TLC, who was seven years older than she was at the time. She thought he was cute. “I’m 21,” she said. “This is weird!”
They show video of him going through vocal puberty so he had put his career on hold. Reid almost dropped him. “I couldn’t understand why these people were turning their back on me,” Usher said.
“He talked me into hanging in there,” Reid said.
Reid enlisted help from Sean “Puffy” Combs. Usher flew up to New York to what Reid called “Flavor Camp.” Usher’s mom was a bit reluctant but let him go in the spring of 1994 at age 15 “indoctrinated into the ghetto fabulous lifestyle,” the narrator intoned.
His first album featured material far beyond his years and it didn’t click. It peaked at 167 on the charts, selling fewer than 500,000 copies. Usher’s mom took reins as his manager and in 1995, they booked their own tour. “We went into every little hole we could go in,” she said. (He even performed in strip clubs.)
Reid said he was growing as an entertainer. Usher recorded “My Way,” released in 1997, working with Jermaine Dupri. “You Make Me Wanna,” the first single, about a relationship that wasn’t working, became a huge hit. Then “Nice ‘n Slow” solidified his star status at age 19. The album sold 4 million-plus albums.
By the time he worked on his third album, he had a “longing for family,” partly because of the “absence of his father.” He reached out to Chilli to be in his video. She said no. After he called her personally, he changed her mind. On set, she didn’t know what to make of him given the eight-year age difference, but the chemistry was undeniable.
According to the special, Chilli had just divorced Dallas Austin and as a single mom, she was unsure if she wanted anything serious. “He put his hand over my heart and revived me,” she said. They’d have a battle of “six packs.”
The relationship got tons of press and they became the “reining couple of R&B,” the narrator said. “I wanted to be with this woman and do what it takes to make her happy,” he said.
In the fall of 2003, he asked for her hand in marriage. But she wasn’t ready for it.
He then began cheating on her. He admitted it to her when she confronted him. That ended the relationship in January 2004. “I felt like a fool,” Chilli said. “I shut down completely.”
[They are clearly wistful to this day. You have to wonder why they don't just reunite, eh? Says Chilli: "If we had met later, this would be a completely different 'Behind the Music.' And 'What Chilli Wants' would be titled 'What Chilli Has.' "]
The producers then play the infamous Q100 interview Chilli did on February 17, 2004 with the Bert Show. “I was trying to keep it cool but I then lost it,” she said six years later. [Bert Weiss mused today, "We got a lot of mileage out of that, eh?"]
“Usher did the ultimate no no to me,” she told the radio show. “I will never be with him ever again.”
Going public, “I don’t think she even knew how it would affect us,” he said.
“Confessions,” his next album, stirred up gossip about a mistress he may have had. “It was a great mystery that was never solved,” Usher said today. (False. Jermaine Dupri said it was HIS story.)
Usher then had his biggest song to date “Yeah!” The album sold more than 14 million copies worldwide. “It’s the last big album this industry has seen,” Reid said ruefully.
“I hated the album,” Chilli said, given the personal connection.
In late 2005, he began dating another older woman, his hairdresser Tameka Foster. “This woman seemed like the cougar who came into town,” said journalist Alison Samuels. “That really turned people off.”
Usher’s mom was no different. “That’s something I don’t want to talk about,” she said.
The weight of his mom’s disapproval affected their relationship. In May 2007, he fired his mom as his manager. “I wanted my mother to be my mother,” he rationalized.
Nonetheless, he soon got married with Tameka. Mom was not there. (Tameka was not interviewed.)
Tameka got pregnant with his first child. Usher at the time decided to reach out to his estranged dad. “He apologized and I forgave him,” Usher said.
On November, 2007, Usher’s son was born. Sadly, his 52-year-old father never met his grandson and died soon after of liver failure. “That was one of the hardest moments,” Usher said.
His next album, “Here I Stand,” reflected a man who traded single life for domestic bliss. The audience didn’t accept it, especially since he was considered a sex symbol. Despite one hit single “Love in the Club,” the album disappointed. He was shocked.
“The music was wrong, the imaging was wrong,” his mom said.
He got defensive on camera about his marriage and at times became visibly angry. “I began to regret my life was all over the place and everyone had an opinion,” he said.
In December 2008, Usher and Tameka had a second child but the external pressures were hurting the marriage. In June, 2009, Usher filed for divorce. It was finalized in November. “I’d given it all I could to make it work,” he said. He got joint custody of his boys.
At the time, he also mended his relationship with his mom. “I have a purpose that is greater than amassing wealth and being recognized,” he said. “This is real life.”
His sixth album “Raymond Vs. Raymond” balances the perception of who he is and the reality of who he is. It’s doing well, selling steadily with multiple hits.
“The appeal to his sex appeal,” Chilli said, “is in his DNA. It’s just who he is.”