"He's not a bad guy like they say" is probably not the best way to promote a person.
But that's exactly what Carlita Hodges said about R&B singer R. Kelly as she tried to recruit Amber Simone Baker Chinn — then a 19-year-old Buffalo singer — after a video of Baker Chinn singing at a pool party went viral on social media.
The video gained 5 million hits in 30 days and landed Baker Chinn on Harry Connick Jr.'s daytime talk show in 2017. "America's Got Talent" and "American Idol" contacted her about auditioning, and she has since released two singles with plans to release more next month.
But when the 2015 video exploded, many people began reaching out to her, including Hodges, an author and ex-wife of a former NBA player who has said she had an affair with Kelly. Hodges learned about the talented singer through a mutual acquaintance and then initiated a conversation through Facebook messages with Baker Chinn.
That began Baker Chinn's tale of a near miss with Kelly, one of the music industry's most talented and celebrated artists, but whose embattled career took a major hit with this month's release of "Surviving R. Kelly," a six-part Lifetime series in which young women and their families detail allegations of psychological and sexual abuse at his hands. The documentary also brought up the video of Kelly allegedly engaging in a sex act with an underaged girl, which was at the center of his 2008 child pornography trial. He was found not guilty by a Chicago jury.
But for Baker Chinn, that history paled against the allure of connecting with the R&B superstar who could advance her career.
“When you’re my age, you’re not really thinking of all the things about what he was accused of, because you’re so young," Baker Chinn, now 23, said after the documentary aired.
The Facebook messages began innocently enough.
"Well hey there. How are you. With that big voice. Congrats to you,” Hodges messaged her.
As the text conversation proceeded, she raised the prospect of an introduction.
“How old are you? Has anyone reached out to you? If no one has I would like to mention you to a friend of mine,” Hodges wrote.
The friend was Kelly.
"He’s not a bad guy like they say,” Hodges continued. “I have (to) just mention you to him first and tell him to go and see the video.”
Hodges, who also posted Amber's video on her Facebook page, recounts in her 2014 book — "Carlita's Way: Out of the Dark into the Light (My Journey)" — her experiences with abuse in her marriage to former Chicago Bull Craig Hodges and "secrets of her past relationship with R. Kelly."
'Be very careful'
Since the Lifetime series first aired earlier this month, Kelly has been dropped from his record label, RCA, a unit of Sony Music Entertainment, and a prosecutor from a county in Illinois and another in Georgia reportedly are asking women to come forward.
Kelly has denied all sexual abuse and misconduct allegations and reportedly plans to take legal action against the creators of the Lifetime documentary.
But one of the stories in the documentary about a college girl and her family hit close to home for Baker Chinn. The girl's family accused Kelly of brainwashing their daughter — another aspiring singer — and keeping her against her will after he began mentoring the girl during her first year in college in 2016. Instead of returning to college the following fall to begin her sophomore year, the girl called her parents to say she was with Kelly, the parents said. It's been almost two years since the mother and father have seen their daughter, they said.
Baker Chinn also had just completed her freshman year, at SUNY Buffalo State in 2015, when Hodges reached out.
When contacted by phone by The Buffalo News, Hodges at first said she did not know Baker Chinn. However, when told of the Facebook messages with her name on them and a screenshot of her Facebook page on which she had posted Baker Chinn's video, Hodges then said, "I don’t really want to do any interviews. I do know her (Baker Chinn), but I never met her. I think by way of her manager, her information came to me."
"I do know Robert," she continued, referring to Kelly. "I never introduced her to anyone. I don’t have anything to do with R. Kelly. I just don’t want anything to do with R. Kelly’s name.”
Baker Chinn, who graduated from college last May, was not thinking about Kelly's reported problems when Hodges raised the prospect of introducing her to him. The young woman was excited, at first.
But when Hodges began pressing her about managing her career, Baker Chinn felt uncomfortable, she said.
“Don’t rush to sign with anyone. Be very careful. He (Kelly) may not answer the phone right away but I will work on it. Keep this under your hat until I make it happen,” Hodges wrote.
“People will really make promise to tie you up. Don’t let them. Stay Prayed up,” she messaged Baker Chinn, who wondered why a complete stranger would tell her not to talk to anyone else.
“Why is she expecting me to trust her so soon? But then again, that must be how things go” in the entertainment business, Baker Chinn thought at the time.
Then her mother, Shellonnee Chinn, stepped in and insisted that Hodges contact her directly instead of contacting her daughter.
"I was specific. I said, 'Do not call Amber.' I set the precedent that anybody that wants to work with Amber, send them to me," said Chinn.
Chinn also told Hodges that her daughter was a package deal: Anywhere her daughter went, her mother came along.
“I never said no, but I said we’re going to control the narrative of how it’s done,” Chinn said. "It can’t always be about the money."
After Hodges agreed to Chinn's terms, the two women had telephone conversations about Baker Chinn's writing a theme song for Hodges’ domestic violence awareness campaign, Chinn said. The young singer could work on the project while still in college, which Chinn was adamant her daughter complete.
But Chinn became "livid" when Hodges then circumvented her and started calling her daughter directly, including once when Hodges called Kelly on the spot while Baker Chinn was on the line to set up a conference call with him. Kelly didn’t answer the phone, but Hodges said she would try again the next day, according to Baker Chinn, who told her mother about the late-night phone call.
Chinn told her daughter to block Hodges' number right away and stop all communications with her.
A reluctant Baker Chinn complied.
"Of course I hesitated," she said. "When you're anxious, you don't want to miss any opportunity. That was a big deal for me. I was sitting on my bed, looking at my phone ... thinking, 'Do I really want to do this?' It was really hard."
"At that moment I was like I understand you’re trying to do what’s best for me, but mom is this the opportunity I’ve been waiting for? I don’t want to lose something that can help me progress so much. I guess I was pretty blindsided and naive because when you have such a big name in front of you, and you’re trying to pursue your dream, your dream is all that matters,” Baker Chinn said.
But she is glad she listened to her mother.
“I don’t know where I’d be now if I had pursued that call. After watching the documentary it made me so numb. In the documentary he would have other people recruit girls, a lot of people on his team and friends. What if I didn’t open my mouth and say something?” Amber said.
"Everything has been good" since that encounter, Baker Chinn said. “I still got to show my music to the world.”