R. Kelly’s ex: New show ‘a journey of rediscovery and reinvention’
By Lori Rackl email@example.com June 25, 2012 4:30PM
8 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays on VH1
Updated: July 27, 2012 6:06AM
During the dozen years she spent married to R&B star R. Kelly, Andrea Kelly kept a low profile.
Three years after their divorce, the Chicago dancer is stepping into the spotlight. She’s doing so without her ex — and because of him.
Kelly is one of five former wives starring in VH1’s new reality series, “Hollywood Exes,” which premieres Wednesday. She’s joined by Nicole Murphy, ex-wife of actor-comedian Eddie Murphy; Jessica Canseco, the one-time missus of baseball legend Jose Canseco; Sheree Fletcher, first wife of actor Will Smith, and Mayte Garcia, formerly known as Prince’s spouse.
“We really are a sisterhood,” said Kelly, who was buddies with Nicole Murphy before bonding with the rest of the show’s cast. “We all know what it’s like to have, and we know what it’s like to be a have-not.”
Born in Bronzeville and reared in the western suburbs, Kelly met fellow South Sider Robert Sylvester Kelly at the age of 19. She auditioned to be one of his dancers, even though the self-described bunhead was more into ballet than R. Kelly’s grooves.
Like Prince’s ex, Kelly started as an employee and went on to marry the boss.
“Our lives are parallel in that both of us were dancers for our ex,” Kelly said about Garcia, with whom she’s developed a special kinship. “We know what it’s like to turn on the radio and it’s like, ‘Bam! That’s my ex-husband.’ ”
Garcia and Prince were married for three years and went their separate ways more than a decade ago. For Kelly, the wounds are more recent. R. Kelly is still a part of her life. The couple have three children — ages 14, 12 and 10 — and live about 15 minutes apart.
She has a place in south suburban Frankfort, while he has the mansion they once shared in Olympia Fields — a 20,000 square-foot home that went into foreclosure last year. (The Grammy-winning crooner also reportedly owes the IRS close to $5 million in unpaid taxes.)
“The women are all in different places it terms of moving on,” said Jeff Olde, head of programming and development for VH1. “You have people who’ve been divorced for quite a while, and you have people like Drea [Andrea], who’s still living through it.”
The 10-episode series was shot in Los Angeles, where Kelly said she intends to move with her three kids in tow.
What does her ex have to say about all this?
“I’m not sure how he feels about it,” she said. “It’s not really about what my ex feels or what friends and family feel. It’s about what does Drea feel? This is a journey of rediscovery and reinvention.”
Kelly said she wouldn’t necessarily describe her relationship with her former husband as friendly, but she considers him family.
“The marriage came to an end but the family is not over,” she said. “We have children. We co-parent. We’re bonded for life.”
Olde describes Kelly as “one of the funniest women I’ve ever met.” Seeing this person who flew under the radar finally come into her own is a “fascinating part of the story.”
“It’s fun to watch her fly, no pun intended,” Olde said, referring to one of R. Kelly’s biggest hits. “To see her spread her wings and redefine herself on her own terms — you get the sense she spent a lot of years where she wasn’t able to do that.”
Despite dancing and doing choreography for the Billboard Music Awards, “Soul Train” and her ex-husband’s videos, Kelly said a lot of her professional achievements were eclipsed by her superstar husband’s.
“Being married to a man that is so high-profile, so famous, you kind of fall into the background,” she said. Her marriage “was a chapter in my life I had to end in order to start a new chapter.”
All of the cast of “Hollywood Exes” know what it’s like to start over — clearly a major theme of the show. Another theme: The past can be hard to shake, especially if you’re Jessica Canseco. In the pilot, Jose Canseco proposes moving back in with his ex-wife, platonically, for the sake of their 15-year-old daughter.
In one scene, Jessica talks candidly about how Jose’s compulsion to play the field — and we’re not talking about a baseball diamond — led to the demise of their marriage. The women commiserate about the difficulties of being married to famous men who are constantly fending off female fans.
“These girls are coming with the panties off and the Patron,” chimes in Kelly.
On the show, she describes a lifestyle that “was absolutely amazing. I’ve had every fur, every Gucci, every Pucci, every Louis. I had it all.”
“It was quite the ride and I enjoyed every minute,” she said during our interview. “We just went from two kids from the South Side of Chicago with a dream to an empire with kids and nannies and tours. I wouldn’t change anything about it, the good or the bad.”
The bad, of course, includes enduring several well-publicized reports of R. Kelly engaging in sex acts with underage girls. The singer was acquitted of child pornography charges after a trial in 2008.
“I would be crazy to say that was a walk in the park,” Andrea Kelly said. “That was really a test of my faith, a test of my strength. It was a way for me to be a living example to my children. I had to square my shoulders and hold my head high and show them in life, you cannot crawl under a rock and die. You have to keep going, move forward and stay strong. That’s what I want my children to remember, and it’s far more important than anything any tabloid can write.”
She said another chance to be a living example — in this case, for women struggling with divorce — motivated her to do “Hollywood Exes.”
“It’s a platform for women to feel empowered,” she said. “I want women to walk away from it going, ‘If they did it, I know I can do it, because they had to do it with the whole world watching.’ ”