The "CBS This Morning" anchor reveals what was going through her head when R. Kelly stood up shouting and started flailing his arms toward her, and how she kept her cool. King also revealed how Kelly asked her crew if he could stop interview with his girlfriends.
It's the interview people can't stop talking about, as Gayle King sat so calmly while R. Kelly unraveled before her eyes. She dropped by "The Late Show" Thursday night to unpack all the wildness and take Stephen Colbert behind the scenes.
She also threw some pretty wicked shade toward Fox News, understandably a little irritated after commentator Jesse Watters conflated her and Robin Roberts. The co-host of "The Five" faced a little heat after he complimented King's interview, saying it redeemed her for her previous interview with Jussie Smollett.
The only problem is that wasn't King at all, that was Robin Roberts. Watters' co-host Dana Perino corrected him, which King appreciated, and so she sent a lovely email to show her gratitude, while slipping in a pretty barbed dig at both Watters and the entire network. Watters also apologized on air.
King told Colbert she wrote, "Hi, I just wanted to thank you for letting your colleague know that Robin Roberts and I -- It was a great compliment, but thank you for letting him know that we're two different people. And could you let the rest of your colleagues know that all black people do not look alike. Could you please just share that."
As the audience cheered, she added with a smile, "Yes I did. I said that to her."
Colbert couldn't help but offer his own praise for her work in that interview. Not only did she ask the right questions, and challenge Kelly when he tried to evade her questions or get completely off-topic (at least to the best of her abilities), she showed remarkable poise in the face of a rather volatile and unpredictable subject.
R. Kelly is currently facing ten charges of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He denies those charges as well as all of the allegations of sexual abuse and underage sexual abuse that have been levied at him over the years. He was acquitted of similar charges years ago.
The singer is currently incarcerated for unpaid back child support, having been arrested shortly after this interview, which could also have led to his volatile emotional state.
"I could see him getting more heated," King said. "He was upset with me about some of the questions; that's okay. He was a little irritated; that's okay." But when he stood up and started flailing his arms, that's when her poise really stood out. And Gayle said it was a calculated decision to sit there so calmly, and even say his name in that soothing but stern manner.
In fact, her first concern wasn't for her safety, it was that he might leave. "So I decided if I sit there quietly, make eye contact with him," she said. "I thought the minute I walk up and say-- If I stood up, like, 'Calm down!' ... So I thought if I just sit there quietly looking at him, he would know I'm not going anywhere and I'll just wait for you to finish whatever this is and then you'll sit back down in the seat, and he did that."
She also thought, "You're looking a little crazy right now, please sit back down."
When it came time to interview Kelly's girlfriends, Azriel Clary and Joycelyn Savage, King had no idea that R. Kelly had slipped back into the room. "R. Kelly comes back in so he can hear the conversation; he's out of my eyesight and he's out of the girls' eyesight, too," she said. "But when there was a question he didnt like, and I can't remember what it was, you hear this." At this point she started aggressively coughing.
King thought it was someone on her staff very unprofessionally ruining the interview, but it was Kelly. She also revealed that he was pacing back and forth off-camera and even going so far as to ask her crew if he should go in and shut down the interview. Of course, they said no.
"I am told that R. Kelly is talking to members of my own team," King recalled, adding that Kelly asked her crew members, "'They're doing okay. They're doing okay? Should I go in there and stop it? Should I go in and stop it?' He's having a dialogue with people in my team!"
As for the girls themselves, King noted how angry they both were during that interview, and said she even got an apologetic phone call from Clary's father afterward. "That is not the daughter I raised, I don't know who that girl is, I'm so sorry," she recalled him saying.
She even admitted after her interview with them aired Thursday morning that her own motherly instincts had her wanting to snatch them up and take them away. "It's a bad situation. I think one day years from now, everybody will look back on this and say it's very sad, very tawdry and just very very ugly," she said.
"We don't know how the R. Kelly story is going to end, but what I do know is those girls are going to need their family sooner I think rather than later, so it was heartbreaking," she told Colbert Thursday night.
As for Kelly, King admitted that she never expected him to break down and confess to anything. "I did think that on some level he would have a moment of reflection, he would have contrition," she admitted. "So it became very troubling to me to see him really just fall apart.
She went on to add, "I thought we were witnessing the self-destruction of a man having a breakdown, and that's never a good thing to see."
Viewers will get to see even more of King's reportedly 80-minute interview with Kelly in an hour-long special set to air Friday night at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.