‘Surviving R. Kelly: The Impact’ questions if Michael Avenatti will taint Kelly’s trial

Lifetime’s explosive “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary propelled the embattled singer back into the spotlight in January, bringing light to old and new allegations against the R&B star.

The docu-series quickly became the most talked-about TV event of the new year with more than 26 million viewers, sparking immediate public backlash, legal troubles for Kelly and additional allegations against him. 

“Surviving R. Kelly: The Impact,” a two-hour follow-up special, premiered Saturday on the network, recapping reaction to the documentary and examining its lasting impact.

The special, hosted by Soledad O’Brien, included commentary from journalists, criminal justice attorneys, mental health experts and activists.

Related: ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ follow up coming to Lifetime with Soledad O’Brien

R. Kelly walks with attorneys and supporters into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on March 22, 2019. (Photo: Ashlee Rezin, AP)

What’s next for R. Kelly?

Kelly faces 10 felony counts of aggravated criminal sex abuse involving four victims, more than a decade after his 2008 acquittal. And unlike with that child pornography case, there are victims who are willing to testify against Kelly. 

But the follow-up special questioned if Michael Avenatti, the attorney who turned over video evidence that led to Kelly’s sexual abuse charges, could have an impact on the singer’s trial with his own legal troubles. 

Avenatti was charged with extortion, embezzlement and wire fraud in late March. (He has pleaded not guilty.) NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said Kelly’s defense team will attack Avenatti over his “serious credibility issues.”

More: R. Kelly asks the media to ‘take it easy on me’ ahead of 28-second club performance

Michael Avenatti (Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP)

NBC News legal contributor Katie Phang added that Kelly’s defense will attempt to “create reasonable doubt in the mind of the public,” in hopes of tainting the victims that Avenatti represents.

The special said Kelly is under investigation in several other states, including Georgia and Michigan, where authorities in Detroit are reportedly investigating claims from a woman who says she had sex with Kelly in 2001 when she was 13.

Raising awareness for victims

O’Brien said the documentary “helped spur a national, much-needed conversation about recognizing and breaking free from abusive relationships.”

It also empowered fellow victims to come forward and speak their truths. After the premiere, O’Brien said, calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline increased by 35%.

R. Kelly accuser Lisa Van Allen on Dec. 4, 2018, in New York. (Photo: Chance Yeh, Getty Images for A+E)

The special notes that the original documentary came after the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and accelerated the conversation of powerful men being held responsible for their actions.  

Salamishah Tillet, co-founder of the Chicago-based non-profit A Long Walk Home, said people in power normally control the narrative and “how the victim is stereotyped,” but added that the documentary helped turn the tide. 

“There’s one common principle between the (Bill) Cosby case, the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the R. Kelly case now, and that is courts and juries are now willing to believe allegations even if they happened long, long ago, even decades ago,” Cevallos said.

Lisa Van Allen, an alleged victim who spoke out during “Surviving R. Kelly,” said people “are paying attention to everything they already knew.”

A goal that executive producer Jesse Daniels set out to accomplish from the beginning: “Their stories needed to be heard and (the victims) needed a bigger platform to tell their stories.”

Contributing: Maeve McDermott

Reprt: Michael Avenatti met R. Kelly prosecutor Kim Foxx at O’Hare

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