In 'Court of Public Opinion,' R. Kelly's Case Has Already Been Decided

What happens to R. Kelly's career now?

The singer could get up to 15 years in prison if he's convicted in the child pornography trial that went to jury Thursday in Chicago. But his future is less certain if he's cleared of charges that he filmed himself having sex with an underage girl.

The self-proclaimed king of R&B has had more ups than downs in the six years it took the case to come to court.

He has released six platinum studio albums in that time, four of which made their debuts at No. 1. (His next, 12 Play: Fourth Quarter, is out in July.) He has continued to churn out sex-obsessed anthems such as Ignition and I'm a Flirt, as well as his Trapped in the Closet video saga, a tale of love and betrayal. He has produced songs for Britney Spears, Ciara and Celine Dion and worked with Usher, Snoop Dogg and T-Pain.

The trial "really hasn't had an adverse affect so far," says Chuck Creekmur, CEO of the news site "At first, I thought the accusations would be a death knell for his career, but it goes to show just how loyal some fans can be."

Those fans are torn between giving him the benefit of the doubt and being turned off by the nature of the charges, says Cori Murray, entertainment director of Essence magazine.

"A lot of people feel he shouldn't be judged," Murray says. "There's a feeling in the (African-American) community that we don't like to air our dirty laundry, that black men in general are persecuted."

A guilty verdict wouldn't necessarily damage Kelly's reputation. "An actual conviction won't change people's opinions," Creekmur says. "In the court of public opinion, he's already guilty or innocent."

Kelly's music output could continue at the same pace, too. "You see it a lot in hip-hop," Creekmur says. "Somebody gets accused, and they record a ton of product so that things can keep coming out even when they're locked up.

"R. Kelly has shown that work ethic and seems to have a Midas touch. He would probably move units even from jail."

What might prove more difficult is building upon his fan base. Kelly, 41, still has adult fans, but "I don't hear the buzz on R. Kelly with the youth," says Elroy R.C. Smith, operations director of Radio One-Philadelphia. Kelly has reached younger audiences with remixes of Mariah Carey's Touch My Body and Raheem DeVaughn's Customer, but new single Hair Braider has fallen flat.

"Hair braiding isn't relevant anymore. If he wants to strive for the young (18-to-24 audience), he has to understand their tastes and lifestyle."