Andrea Kelly saunters into the room with her stiletto boots clicking, her shoulder-length curls bouncing; sheâ€™s sparkling like the crystal hoops dangling from her ears. Despite her famous last name, few in the room know who she is. Sheâ€™s used to that. Andrea has been ignored before, like in those posh stores near Chicagoâ€™s Gold Coast or in Los Angeles, where burly bouncers blocked her from crossing the velvet ropesâ€”that is, until the gatekeeper found out who she was. Then it was â€œOops.â€ Disbelief turned to immediate accommodation. And then came the apologies, â€œSorry, Mrs. Kelly.â€ But mostly itâ€™s, â€œI didnâ€™t know he had a wife.”
â€œHeâ€ is her husband, R. Kelly. Yes, the R. Kellyâ€”the Grammy Awardâ€“winning R&B singer currently facing 14 counts of child pornography charges for allegedly videotaping himself having sex with an underage girl. Andrea, or Baby Girl, as she is called by those in the dance world, has shunned her husbandâ€™s larger-than-life spotlight. She says her priorities during her 11-year marriage have been shielding her three young childrenâ€”two girls, 9 and 7, and a 5-year-old boyâ€”from the fray and finding serenity even amid overwhelming controversy. Despite the rumors and allegations about her husbandâ€™s encounters with young girls, she refuses to play the role of the poor, downtrodden wife: â€œSome people in my position would probably be very broken right now, and they would probably be saying â€˜woe is me.â€™ But Iâ€™m just not that person.â€
RISING ABOVE THE PAIN
Andrea is in the midst of rehearsals for a showcase she is choreographing. In one piece sheâ€™ll dance to Mahalia Jacksonâ€™s solemn song from the movie Imitation of Life; the dancers pick her up, perhaps signifying that she is rising above her problems and transferring the pain. The interpretation is also a metaphor for her life.
When the videotape that shows a man resembling R. Kelly appearing to have sex with a young girl and urinating on her surfaced in 2002, the scandal rocked the music world and briefly cast Kelly as the villain. His former protÃ©gÃ©e Stephanie â€œSparkleâ€ Edwards publicly identified the girl in the tape as her 14-year-old niece. (The girl, however, continues to deny she was in the tape.) It became a gritty bootleg video watched and downloaded in homes across the country. The gossip was viral. In June of that year, Kelly was arrested and indicted on multiple counts of child pornography in connection with the tape. Kelly, who maintains itâ€™s someone else in the video, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and is awaiting a trial, which has been postponed several times.
Andrea was pregnant with their son when the news broke. Instead of breaking down, she blocked everything out. She said the couple worked hard to protect the family from the outside world, and the accusations forced her to become â€œa lionessâ€ for her children and to live by adages she knows sound clichÃ© but resonate nonetheless. While she smiles, sheâ€™s cautious and each answer seems carefully constructed. â€œWhat doesnâ€™t break you makes you stronger, and Iâ€™m living proof,â€ she reflects. â€œAfter I went through that storm, look at me. I can still wake up and smile every day, and Iâ€™m still going on with my company and Iâ€™m living my life.â€
Andrea does, however, shift uncomfortably when talking about the case against her husband; itâ€™s a subject sheâ€™d rather leave alone. She does not allow her children to read the tabloids and will only permit them to be in the company of people she trusts. She keeps life for them as normal as possible: playdates with neighbors, parties and trips. But Andrea says she had to cut some people off who said nasty things about her husband, and surround herself with people who she believes care for her. â€œI know the allegations against my husband donâ€™t reflect on me as an individual,â€ she says. â€œThey donâ€™t reflect on me as a mom or as a wife, and they donâ€™t reflect on me in my everyday life.â€
She allows that some news articles as well as court records are true. The couple did file for divorce in 2006. Andrea moved out of their home, and both hired top-notch attorneys. According to reports, she also filed an order of protection in September 2005, explaining to a judge that when she had told her husband she wanted a divorce, he became angry and hit her. She rescinded the protection order weeks later.
Attorneys for both announced the couple were trying to work out their problems. Still, itâ€™s clear that Andreaâ€™s pain is far from dormant. She will not comment on this situation, saying, â€œItâ€™s old news.â€ She knows many think she filed for divorce because of the child pornography allegations. Wrong, she insists: â€œWhen there is a storm, I wonâ€™t leave you out in the rain. Iâ€™m no fair-weather wife.â€™â€™ Andrea says she also knows others will swear she filed for divorce because of the comments she made to the judge. Not true, she adds, claiming they just grew up and apart, as couples sometimes do.
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