ALL HER LIFE, HER OWN FACE HAD BEEN A MYSTERY. THE ALMOND EYES, straight ebony hair and voluptuous lips were a striking, but mysterious, mosaic: neither black nor white, neither Asian nor Hispanic. It made for a tough childhood for Rozonda Thomas, better known as Chilli, the melodic voice of the Grammy-winning R&B group TLC. "When you look different, it is a big deal," she says, recalling the days when "all the girls wanted to beat me up, pull my hair. A lot of people would wonder what I was mixed with, and I never knew because I didn't know my dad." He was a soldier based at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., when he met Chilli's mom, Ava. After a brief romance, he left town without knowing that Ava was pregnant. Granting Chilli's dearest wish, to meet her father, a producer for the Sally Jessy Raphael Show
tracked down Abdul Ali, now an Atlantic City casino worker, and introduced him to his remarkable offspring in February. Many hugs and kisses later, Chilli, 25, discovered that his part-Arabic, part-East Indian heritage explained her own exotic features. His small but muscular body was the obvious progenitor of her 5', 98-lb. physique. Mother Ava, who contributed Chilli's angular chin, says that she and Ali "just had the right combination" to make a gorgeous daughter. "I love her complexion," says Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, one of TLC's producers. "It's a beautiful milk chocolate color with golden touches." Now when Chilli looks in the mirror, she sees no missing pieces: "I feel complete."