Stephanie 'Sparkle' Edwards Compares R. Kelly to Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein (Exclusive)
By Zach Seemayer
For Stephanie Edwards, better known by her stage sobriquet Sparkle, her career in the recording industry was made by R&B singer R. Kelly. According to Edwards, it was Kelly who is also responsible for shattering everything she'd built.
"I had a nasty taste in my mouth after seeing what I saw, and after many people, you know, didn't want me to speak out," Edwards, 43, recently told ET's Kevin Frazier via a satellite interview. "I just shied away from the industry. I didn't want any part of it anymore."
What turned Edwards away from the music industry for nearly a decade was her decision to testify in court against R. Kelly in 2008, when he was facing 14 counts of child pornography. Kelly has staunchly denied all allegations of sexual misconduct that have been leveled against him, and was acquitted in that case on all counts.
However, her entrance into the industry began decades earlier, when she was first introduced to Kelly.
Being a Chicago native like the "I Believe I Can Fly" singer -- whose real full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly -- Edwards said she met the artist in 1989 when "a girlfriend of mine was good friends of his, and she wanted him to hear me sing."
"I worked for him on Aaliyah's first album, and I sang all of her background vocals on her first album, Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number," Edwards said, recalling her work on the late songstress' 1994 album, recorded when Aaliyah was 14 and already being mentored by Kelly. "Fast forward a few years later we started working on my project, Sparkle."
Edwards musical career reached its apex in 1998 with Sparkle, her debut album, featuring the hit single "Be Careful," a duet with Kelly, who had previously taken her under his mentorship and had worked with her as a backup singer on other artists' albums before he personally produced her album.
Less than four years after Sparkle was released, a now-infamous video surfaced that allegedly showed Kelly engaging in sexual relations with an underage girl. Edwards was contacted by Chicago Police and asked to confirm whether the girl in the video was her niece, who was 14 at the time the video was filmed. Edwards told police that the underage victim in the video was, in fact, her niece.
Edwards told ET that she "immediately" knew the girl's identity after moments of watching the tape.
"I know my family, and it's a clear view of her," Edwards said, recalling the graphic video. "She came into view and I just couldn't watch any more of it. I just watched the first few seconds of it."
While Kelly was arrested in 2002, his path to a criminal hearing was fraught with delays and setbacks, and the artist -- who pled not guilty and staunchly denied that the man in the video was him -- didn't end up facing a jury until 2008. Edwards testified against Kelly in open court, however, and the artist was acquitted after a trial that lasted nearly six months.
"There are some people who don't believe that it's him or that he's doing these things," Edwards said. "Then, there are people who will back these women up and I support the women."
However, Edwards says she never got the support for standing up to a powerful show business figure that women, who are speaking out now, have received in the form of the #MeToo movement or the Time's Up campaign.
"I went at it alone," Edwards said. "I'm happy to see the #MeToo movement and Time's Up movement are backing these women. I wish they were backing [me] when I was coming up and had a story to tell, but nobody believed. But now people are seeing."
In Edwards' opinion, Kelly's alleged actions have earned him a place among the major headline-grabbing pariahs that have emerged over the last year.
"He's right there in there with them, all of them. They're piled in there together. There's no difference," Edwards claimed. "Harvey Weinstein. [Kelly], even Bill Cosby… he's been doing it for way too long."
The controversial series features interviews with over 50 people, including several women who claim to be victims of sexual misconduct by Kelly, and people from the artist's personal life who are speaking out with claims supporting those made by his alleged victims.
Ahead of the show's premiere, Kelly's lawyer, Brian Nix, sent a legal warning to Lifetime threatening to sue the network if they didn't pull the docu-series, TMZ reports. According to the letter published by TMZ, Nix claims that many of the allegations made in the documentary are false, and further alleges that Lifetime knowingly included false accounts.
In response, the network defended their series with a brief and pointedly worded public statement, sharing, "Lifetime has always been a brand that champions women’s stories. The documentary will air as scheduled."
The controversial docu-series features many interviews with people who have known Kelly throughout different parts of his life, as well as women who accuse the singer of abusing them emotionally, sexually and physically.
One of the more controversial allegations in the docu-series reportedly comes from Jovante Cunningham, a singer and backup dancer who tearfully claimed to have once witnessed Kelly and an underage Aaliyah having sex on a tour bus.
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R. Kelly Addresses Marriage to Aaliyah, Forgives Sexual Abuser
"We were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing, when the door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah," Cunningham claims in the documentary.
The late singer's mother, Diane Haughton, took to social media on Wednesday to flat-out deny the claim.
“My husband and I were always on tour with [Aaliyah] and at interviews and every place she went throughout her entire career,” the statement reads. “Whoever this woman is [who is making the allegations], I have never seen her before anywhere on planet earth, until now.”
"These lies and fabrications cannot be tolerated and allowed to be spewed from the forked tongues of saboteurs of Aaliyah's legacy," the firebrand statement continued. "Shame on all those involved in this project who thought it kosher to drag Aaliyah’s name into a situation that has nothing to do with her today. Once again, this will not be tolerated."
Houghton's statement did not address the reports and court documents alleging that Kelly illegally married Aaliyah when he was 27 and she was 15, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Their alleged marriage was reportedly annulled at the behest of the late singer's family. Both Aaliyah and Kelly denied that they'd gotten married at the time when the reports surfaced.
The documentary also features an interview with John Legend, who sat down to condemn Kelly for his alleged behavior.
Legend hasn't ever backed down from calling out the entertainer. Back in April, Legend tweeted, "I stand with the women of #timesup#muterkelly," after a report came back leveling multiple new allegations against the artist.
On Thursday, following the documentary premiere, Legend doubled down on his support, thanking producer Dream Hampton for her efforts.
"We should all thank my friend @dreamhampton for her very necessary work to create #SurvivingRKelly," Legend wrote. "These survivors deserved to be lifted up and heard. I hope it gets them closer to some kind of justice."
We should all thank my friend @dreamhampton for her very necessary work to create #SurvivingRKelly. These survivors deserved to be lifted up and heard. I hope it gets them closer to some kind of justice.
Speaking with Shadow and Act in an interview published on Thursday, morning, Hampton opened up about the difficulties the production faced finding celebrities who were willing to speak out.
"John Legend was the only one," Hampton revealed. "I asked Jay-Z, I asked Mary J. Blige, I asked Lil Kim, Erykah Badu, Dave Chappelle… I mean, most people just don't want to touch it. I remember Ahmir ["Questlove" Thompson] was like, 'I would do anything for you but I can't do this.' It's not because they support him, it's because it's so messy and muddy."
"It's that turning away that has allowed this to go on," Hampton added.
According to Edwards, she was also tempted to turn away when Hampton first approached her about appearing in the series, "Because I didn't wanna drudge up the hardship that it caused my family."
However, after a heartfelt conversation with the producer, she came around on participating.
"Hampton spoke to me and spoke to my management," Edwards said. "She shared how she didn't see me as a survivor but she wanted to celebrate me for being the first one to stand up… and bring to light what was going [on]."