In the nearly five years since R. Kelly was charged with several criminal counts of child pornography, his wife, Andrea Lee Kelly, has remained silent. She has been so far removed from family members, in fact, that they've resorted to asking the police to check in with her to make sure she's all right.
"We know her not calling us is sending a signal that something is wrong," her mother, Gerri Cruze, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Even after Andrea Lee Kelly asked for an emergency protective order to keep the singer away from her — amid claims of physical abuse — and after she separated from her husband and moved out of their home in fall 2005, she didn't reach out publicly. Until now.
Following a long silence, Andrea Kelly is opening up in the new issue of Essence magazine, on newsstands May 11.
"Some people in my position would probably be very broken right now, and they would probably be saying, 'Woe is me.' But I'm just not that person," she told the magazine.
In the interview, she talks about how few people seem to realize R. Kelly even has a wife, let alone one with whom he's had three children — two girls, ages 9 and 7, and a 5-year-old boy. Andrea was pregnant with their son when the news broke of the alleged R. Kelly sex tape, for which he is currently awaiting trial (see "R. Kelly: When the Gavel Drops"). Part of the reason she stayed silent then, she says now, is that she was trying to protect their children — being "a lioness" for her cubs. "They may say, 'Mom and Dad went through a storm,' " she said. "But it's not the storm I want them to remember, it's how their mom came out of it."
Even now, Andrea Kelly hesitates to talk about the case directly, and she's still forbidding her children to read the tabloids and will only permit them to be in the company of people she trusts. For instance, she cuts off people who speak ill of their father, even though the couple filed for divorce last year (see "R. Kelly, Wife Separate — Petition For Restraining Order Tells Of Alleged Abuse"). The reason for the split, she insists, is not because of the criminal charges.
"I'm no fair-weather wife," she told the magazine. "I have children. I would never do anything to hurt their father. We have a bond that we will have for the rest of our lives because we have children. ... That we filed for divorce is not that important."
She also doesn't believe that R. Kelly is the man on the tape at the center of the criminal charges. "C'mon," she said. "Who would believe all that? That's why they call them allegations." But at the same time, she also says she hasn't seen the tape and never looked for it.
"Oh boy, if you only knew," she said. "If you knew what it took to be in [my] position. I would hope people would take away from this that you can't just look at a women in my position and judge her because of things you perceive in a video or stuff you hear on the street."
Still, she won't accompany R. Kelly to his court appearances — because she needs to be with their children. "I will take care of the home front," she said. "There is a war going on, and they don't send every soldier to Iraq. I've got to be homeland defense.
"I know the allegations against my husband don't reflect on me as an individual," she continued. "They don't reflect on me as a mom or as a wife, and they don't reflect on me in my everyday life. ... [But] I don't want to sit here and act as if I have some halo over my head. A person has to ask, 'How much did I allow?' "
She also denies cutting off her family. "We live right here in Chicago," she said with exasperation. "How could you not know where I am?"
Andrea met R. Kelly when she was 20 years old and auditioned to be a dancer for his 12 Play tour — she was quickly upgraded to choreographer. Since then, she's choreographed and danced for the Best of Both Worlds, Key in the Ignition and TP2.com Tours, as well as awards shows and videos for "Happy People," "Thoia Thoing," and "You Remind Me of Something." During their working relationship, Kelly, then 27, married Aaliyah, then 15 (the marriage was later annulled). R. Kelly and Andrea's relationship started becoming a "love story," she says, and they married in 1996, when she was 22. "I'll tell you, whatever happens to us, I will love that man to the day I die," she said.
In fact, she says, they're attempting to reconcile. But even with those attempts, she's not choreographing for him anymore — she's shifted her focus to helping young girls. Last year, she founded Dream Tu Dance Productions and volunteers at a Chicago public high school as a dance instructor, trying to alert young girls to the dangers of the music industry.
"I've become more and more conscious," she told the magazine. "In this business, I know you're going to have to make compromises, but when you start to compromise yourself ... you're going to look up one day and ... you'll be like, 'Who is this person in the mirror?' "
"I was a dancer before I met Robert, and I'll be a dancer long after," she added. "Just because I was on his stage, that did not make me a dancer, it did not make a choreographer, it just presented me to the world. I was all those things before him."
And whatever happens now, Andrea's ready — as her family braces itself for the trial to come.
"What doesn't break you makes you stronger, and I'm living proof," she says. "After I went through that storm, look at me. I can still wake up and smile every day, and I'm still going on with ... my life."