The first two parts of Lifetime’s revealing docuseries, “Surviving R. Kelly” focuses on the R&B singer-songwriter’s traumatic childhood and his abuse towards young women. The first episode of the six-part documentary is titled after his nickname, “the Pied Piper of R&B,” based on a legend of a man who lured away children with his pipe. R. Kelly would live up to the nickname as narrated by victims Lisa Van Allen and Lizzette Martinez.
The docuseries began with Kells’ rough upbringing. His brothers, Bruce and Carey Kelly recalled their famous sibling as being an “afraid” and “timid” kid. “Rob was shy and very timid. If you stared at him in his face he would cry,” said Bruce, who is Kelly’s eldest brother and currently incarcerated at Chicago’s Cook County Jail.
Molestation had taken place within Robert’s family and he had been victimized from age 7 until he was about 14 or 15. Kelly’s brother, Carey, admitted that he had also been sexually abused as a child by a relative. “Children [who are victims of sexual violence] might want to say, ‘I want to be the one who’s in that power position. I never want to be a victim again,’” clinical psychologist, Dr. Candice Norcott explained in the docuseries. Kelly’s empowerment derived from dominating and abusing others.
Jovante Cunningham is first introduced as a backup singer and dancer. She met Kelly through a friend in 1991, when she was 14 years old. She started doing background vocals for him in the studio. Cunningham recalls the first time she witnessed a sexual act in the studio, between Kelly and one of her teenage friends. “We were all right there,” she emphasizes. “None of us were of age. None of us.”
Kelly had met Lizzette Martinez during a mall outing. After she approached the star, he sent a bodyguard to give her his phone number. Martinez, who had dreams of singing professionally, thought it was her “big break.” She was 17. “I wanted the dream so bad, but I knew it was going to be something else.” Kelly was allegedly physically abusive to Martinez; she recalled him smacking her for looking at someone “that I shouldn’t have been looking at,” saying, “you’re only supposed to be looking at me.”
“He told me to perform sexual acts while his friends were in the backseat,” Martinez continues. “It was like he owned me.” Kelly controlled who Martinez talked to and when she ate; he ordered people to follow her around. “It was just sex and mental and physical abuse,” she concludes. “He stole my life from me.”
R. Kelly met Andrea Lee when she was 19, after she landed a job as his backup dancer. “It was actually beautiful in the beginning,” Andrea Kelly narrates. “I didn’t know about the storm on the horizon.” In 1996, Kelly asked her to marry him. “My wedding was a surprise wedding,” Kelly explains. “I did not know I was getting married.”
As their relationship progressed, Kelly exerted more control over his wife; she alludes to some of his abusive behavior towards her, but says that there are certain things she’s not willing to talk about, because of “the darkness of it.” Crying, she wordlessly confirms the rumors that Kelly would lock her up. She explains how he mercilessly criticized her and undermined her confidence. “If I can just get him back to the good guy…” she remembers thinking. “How do I get back the guy who asked me to help him read?”
Lisa Van Allen met R. Kelly when she was 17 and he was 31. After learning how old she was, Kelly immediately asked if her mom would let her come to Chicago. “I didn’t assume that he liked younger girls,” Van Allen recalls. “At that moment, I just thought that he liked me.” After a number of visits, Van Allen ended up staying in Chicago. Kelly controlled who she talked to, and limited her interactions. He ordered her to address him as “Daddy” at all times. “He would say things like, if you love me you won’t try to change me,” Van Allen explains. “You’ll do these things for me.”
She describes one incident in which he ordered her to have a threesome with him and a 16-year-old girl, which he then proceeded to film without her consent. Van Allen started crying. “I can’t watch this with you on here crying,” she remembers Kelly saying. Van Allen says she went on to have sex with that young woman multiple times. Van Allen later learned that Kelly had lied to her, and that these sexual encounters had occurred when the girl was just 14.
After years of allegations and stories, executive producer dream hampton hopes that “Surviving R. Kelly” will stick in people’s minds.