As previously reported, Lifetime's new documentary series, "Surviving R. Kelly," is set to air on Jan. 3. During the six-part docuseries, interviews with countless subjects shine a light on strong (and occasionally decades-old) allegations of sexual abuse. The docuseries includes an interview with one former affiliate who recounts bearing witness to R. Kelly's alleged sexual encounters with underage girls, including with his one-time protégée Aaliyah Haughton.
In a new People exclusive leading up to the docuseries' airing later this week, eight women share their stories pertaining to their past experiences with R. Kelly. Many of the women interviewed claim that the famed R&B icon used his power and stature to sexually, physically and emotionally abuse women and young girls throughout the duration of his lengthy career. The singer has adamantly denied all accusations being made against him, as well as has addressed the matter in a 19-minute confessional song, 2018's "I Admit," during which he navigates his financial trouble and what it's like being "falsely accused."
As revealed in People's sneak preview, the documentary's first episode features an emotional interview with former backup singer Jovante Cunningham, who says she met R. Kelly when she was 14. During the interview, Cunningham claims she bore direct witness to R. Kelly engaging in sexual acts with underaged girls, including Aaliyah, during the 1990s.
"Aaliyah [was] very tom-boyish, glasses, braces, no swag," Cunningham says, reflecting on meeting the aspiring singer when she was only 12. Aaliyah became acquainted with R. Kelly through her uncle-turned-manager Barry Hankerson. Years later, in 1994, it was reported that R. Kelly and Aaliyah were secretly wed. A marriage certificate surfaced in the media, showcasing that Aaliyah -- who was 15 at the time -- had her age listed as 18.
"She truly was a beautiful young lady," Cunningham continues. "We used to sneak Aaliyah out of the hotel room and take her all over the place. Those were the good old day. But, those are the things that also make you cry."
She, then, recounts witnessing what it was like when she discovered Aaliyah and R. Kelly had a sexual relationship. At the time, Kelly was 27 and Aaliyah was 15. Kelly played an instrumental role in her career, becoming her mentor and the lead songwriter and producer for her debut album, 1994's Age Ain't Nothing But A Number.
"We were out on the road with Aaliyah," Cunningham 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, when the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah."
When asked to further clarify what she saw, Cunningham responded, "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."
Prior to her untimely passing in 2001, Aaliyah never specifically addressed the reports commenting on the nature of their relationship, nor did R. Kelly.
Elsewhere during the documentary, R. Kelly's former personal assistant Demetrius Smith claims he was present at their wedding, as well as admits to helping obtain forged documents to assist in the marriage process.
"Robert came to me, we were in Miami," Smith says. "Robert said, 'Man we got Aaliyah in trouble.' Robert mentioned to me that '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 continues, "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 a year's time due to her parents stepping in.
"Surviving R. Kelly" will begin airing on Thursday (Jan. 3). Representatives for R. Kelly have not yet issued a statement pertaining to these latest developments.