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-- Joe D'Angelo, with additional reporting by Minya Oh

"The only reason I'm here is because I was forced to leave because there was an attack on me by my group member Kiely Williams."

When Naturi Naughton appeared on New York radio show "The Wendy Williams Experience" in August to announce her departure from 3LW, the fate of the platinum pop trio was suddenly in limbo. A food fight — in which a KFC two-piece fried chicken meal with mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese wound up splattered all over Naughton — proved to be the final straw in a strained relationship with Kiely and groupmate Adrienne Bailon that began months before.

  3LW Photos: Then And Now
Comparisons to Destiny's Child surfaced soon after the teen group broke out in 2000 with their self-titled debut, and following Naughton's testimony, the parallels were cause for worry for their fans, managers and label. Like Destiny's Child, who experienced two lineup changes while promoting their second album, 3LW's internal struggles grew as their sophomore release approached. Only when A Girl Can Mack comes out October 22 will we know whether 3LW can successfully rebound from the crisis, like Destiny's Child did, or suffer the same fate as the Spice Girls, whose girl power all but ran out after Geri Halliwell left.

While the 18-year-old Naughton's split from Adrienne Bailon and Kiely Williams is still cause for heated she-said/they-said debates, the timing of her departure and the circumstances surrounding it remain puzzling.

Naughton says that she was methodically squeezed out of the group because management claimed she wasn't talented enough and because her appearance and mannerisms didn't fit the group's crafted image. Bailon and Williams deny those allegations and say that not only was Naughton never asked or forced to leave, but the reason she did is a mystery even to them.

 "I Do
(Wanna Get Close To You)"

A Girl Can Mack
(Epic)
Each side of the story comes with its share of doubts. If Naughton is to be believed, why would efforts to oust her intensify right as "I Do (Wanna Get Close to You)," the first single and video from A Girl Can Mack, was dropping? If it's all in Naughton's head, as Williams and Bailon attest, why would the savvy young woman — who continues to hold lofty dreams of stardom — abandon what is, so far, her closest shot at fame? Only 3LW's camp, consisting of Williams' sisters Michelle (her legal guardian and group manager) and Tse (who heads up 3LW's Nine Lives production company), knows for sure. And therein lies the problem, according to Naughton.


NEXT: 'The two light-skinned girls are kicking me out.' ...
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Photo: Epic

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 "I Do
(Wanna Get Close To You)"

A Girl Can Mack
(Epic)



 "I Do
(Wanna Get Close To You)"

live from TRL
A Girl Can Mack
(Epic)



 Naughty By Nature feat. 3LW
"Feels Good"
iicons
(TVT)



 "Playas Gon' Play"
Playas Gon' Play
(Epic)



 "No More
(Baby I'ma Do Right)"

Playas Gon' Play
(Epic)



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