Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly features testimonies from a number of women who have accused the R&B singer of domestic abuse and sexual assault throughout his career. Jezebel writes that the six-part, 3 night documentary “feels like a plea sharply directed at Kelly’s current fanbase and those in his industry who’ve remained shockingly silent on the allegations.”
As reported by PEOPLE, the first episode, airing Thursday, Jan. 3, includes an interview with former backup singer Jovante Cunningham, who met R. Kelly at age 14 and claims she witnessed his sexual encounters with underaged girls in the ’90s, including late songstress Aaliyah Haughton.
“Aaliyah [was] very tom-boyish, glasses, braces, no swag,” Cunningham describes of meeting the 12-year-old star in the making. Aaliyah became acquainted with Kelly through her uncle Barry Hankerson, his manager at the time.
“She truly was a beautiful young lady. We used to sneak Aaliyah out of the hotel room and take her all over the place,” says Cunningham. Asked to describe the moment she discovered R. Kelly, then 27, and 15-year-old Aaliyah had a sexual relationship, she explained.
“We were out on the road with Aaliyah,” she says. “On a tour bus, there really aren’t many confined spaces. When you get on the bus there are bunks and so these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don’t want anybody to see you sleeping.
“So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing,” Cunningham continues. “When the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.”
She says Kelly was doing “Things that an adult should not be doing with a child.”
“I can’t stress to you how people are still suffering behind things that went on 20 years ago,” she added.
Back in 1994 it was reported that R. Kelly and Aaliyah had secretly wed and questionable a marriage certificate listed her age as 18, though she underage at the time.
In the documentary, Kelly’s former personal assistant claims he was present at the wedding and admits to obtaining false documents for Aaliyah, who was only 15.
“Robert came to me, we were in Miami,” recalls Demetrius Smith. “Robert said, ‘Man we got Aaliyah in trouble’.”
Smith said he was heartbroken when Kelly said, “I think she’s pregnant.”
“That broke my heart right there because I really believed him when he said that he wasn’t messing with Aaliyah…Once he told me that I was at a loss for words.”
Smith goes on to claim, “I was in the room when they got married. I’m not proud of that. I had papers forged for them when Aaliyah was underaged. It was just a quick little ceremony, she didn’t have on a white dress he didn’t have on a tux. Just every day wear. She looked worried and scared.”
The marriage was reportedly annulled within the year.
“Her parents had the last say,” says Smith.
Aaliyah died tragically in a plane crash in 2001.
In the docuseries the 51-year-old singer’s brothers — Bruce and Carey — break their silence about decades long accusations of abuse against their famous sibling.
“Robert is not cut from a cloth of being street,” Carey said. “He didn’t come outside, he stayed in the house and played with his keyboard.”
During a 2016 interview with GQ, R. Kelly revealed he was sexually abused by a relative from the age of 7 or 8 ‘til he was 14 or 15.
“It teaches you to definitely be sexual earlier than you should have, than you’re supposed to,” he said. “You know, no different than putting a loaded gun in a kid’s hand — he gonna grow up being a shooter, probably. I think it affects you tremendously when that happens at an early age. To be more hornier. Your hormones are up more than they would normally be. Mine was.”
Carey said he believed his brother because it also happened to him. But the told Kelly about it, “he didn’t really respond to it like I thought he should,” he told PEOPLE.
“I was molested by a family member and that shook my world,” Carey said. “I knew it wasn’t right even though I was 6 at the time. I was afraid to tell my mom. Robert, being my big brother — I brought that to him and told him what happened to me. And when I told him he didn’t really respond to it like I thought he should. He said, ‘Naw, that didn’t happen to you.’ I said, ‘Yes it did.’ He said, ‘No it didn’t.’ I left it at that.”
Kelly’s brothers said he was able to find an escape through music.
PEOPLE reached out to Kelly about the claims made in the docuseries as well as their interview and the singer’s response was “no comment”.
Surviving R. Kelly airs on Lifetime at 9 p.m. ET from Thursday, Jan. 3 through Saturday, Jan. 5.