R. Kelly Faces Uncertain Future

Before scandal involving R. Kelly began to surface in February, the R&B singer's sparkling career seemed unstoppable.

He had a much anticipated album with Jay-Z coming out, a hit on the charts with rapper Fat Joe, and was picked to perform his inspirational hit "The Greatest" at the opening ceremonies of this year's Winter Olympics.

Since then, the singer (full name: Robert Kelly) has taken a commercial hit amid allegations that he taped a sexual encounter with an underage girl. (On Wednesday, he was charged with 21 counts of child pornography; he could face 15 years in prison if convicted. Kelly, who posted bond Thursday, has denied the charges).

The album with Jay-Z, The Best of Both Worlds, has barely gone gold, and Jay-Z as well as other artists have distanced themselves from them.

"I think in the short term, it's going to affect his career. There's evidence of that from the lackluster sales of the Best of Both Worlds," said writer Lola Ogunnaike, who wrote about the scandal for the May issue of Vibe magazine

Yet radio stations are still playing his music, and his record company, Jive Records, is standing behind him.

The long-term effect on Kelly's career remains unclear.

"We have to watch how it all plays out ... it's still all very new," said Wayne Mayo, assistant program director at a New York urban-music station WWPR-FM.

Pornographic videos purportedly showing Kelly having sex with an underage girl and other women have been sold on the streets in cities across the nation, and on the Internet. But Mayo says his station never considered pulling Kelly's songs.

"The audience will tell us if they don't want us to play his music, but we haven't gotten that," he said. "(The fans) seem to be separating R. Kelly the artist from R. Kelly the alleged child pornographer"

Though Kelly has worked with Mary J. Blige, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, none have offered public support.

Jay-Z has refused to promote their album or appear with Kelly. And the hot new singer Ashanti reportedly was to collaborate with the singer but dropped those plans.

However, Kelly does have one defender — Ronald Isley.

The longtime member of the Isley Brothers has known Kelly for years, and Kelly's work with them is credited with helping with the platinum success of their album last year.

Isley told The Associated Press that the charges against the singer aren't true, and that he is a victim of blackmail. He believes Kelly will eventually be acquitted — and support from other artists will return.

"He's at the top of his game, and it's a shame that any time one of us gets at the top of our game, there's someone, or something, that wants to destroy him," Isley said after Kelly's arrest.

Kelly has sold 23 million albums since he made his debut in the early 90s and has an uncannily ability to mix the inspirational and sexual — with hits ranging from the Grammy-winning, gospellike "I Believe I Can Fly," to songs such as "Bump and Grind," "You Remind Me" and "Feelin on Yo' Booty."

"He has always been one of the most diverse artists. He can be on a record with Jay-Z, he can be on a record with Celine Dion," said Sean Ross of Airplay Monitor. "He can make a record that only pop radio can play, he can make a record that only R&B radio will play."

And while he married Aaliyah briefly when she was just 15, he didn't suffer any major fallout from it. But Ogunnaike believes that now his career will be damaged and no matter what happens some people will only "know him as an accused pedophile."

Kelly's situation is reminiscent of Michael Jackson's in 1993. Jackson was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy. He denied the allegations, reached a financial settlement with the child and was never charged with any crime. While his popularity has waned, some say his problems are more due to his eccentric behavior.

Others who have been involved in scandals include Jerry Lee Lewis, whose hot rock 'n' roll career sharply declined in 1957 when he married his 13-year-old cousin, and Rob Lowe, who allegedly taped a sexual encounter in 1988.

Lewis' career eventually recovered, re-emerging as a country artist in the '60s; and today Lowe is an acclaimed actor working on NBC's Emmy-winning "The West Wing."

Isley hopes Kelly will return as they did.

"It would be a shame for anything such as this to stop the beautiful lyrics ... that are going to come from him," he said.