With the world’s spotlight shining on him — both for his singing performance at the Olympics and for a videotape that appears to show him having sex with a 14-year-old girl — R. Kelly on Friday proclaimed his innocence.

“It’s very difficult for me, but, you know, I’m innocent. So it’s not that difficult,” Kelly told WMAQ-Channel 5 in an interview before he took the stage in an American flag coat at the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City. “It’s crap, and that’s how we’re going to treat it.”

The R&B superstar from Chicago was responding to questions about the 26-minute videotape, which was sent anonymously to the Chicago Sun-Times and showed what appeared to be him having sex with the underage girl. The Sun-Times turned the tape over to Chicago police, who are investigating.

Kelly’s attorney has said the tape is a fraud. Kelly on Friday said he believes people from his past released it to ruin his big night at the Olympics.

“It’s not true,” said Kelly, 35. “All I know is this: I have a few people in the past that I’ve fired … people that I’ve thought were my friends that’s not my friends.

“Ever since then it’s been threats on what they’re gonna do to me, and . . . if I don’t pay them this, they’ll put a story out . . . and when I refuse to pay them, and now here come this story.”

As Kelly defended himself, a Chicago lawyer who has filed two lawsuits against Kelly claiming that the singer had sex with underage girls said the family of the girl pictured in the tape sent to the Sun-Times had contacted her. The girl is now 17.

“We have been contacted by them over a week ago. I’ve had discussions with the family,” said Susan E. Loggans, the lawyer representing Tiffany Hawkins and Tracy Sampson, who claim they were 15 and 17, respectively, when Kelly had sex with them. “I think the whole thing is coming out, which is probably healthy.”

Robert S. Kelly is the most successful R&B performer from Chicago in the last 30 years. He has sold more than 20 million albums.

Allegations of sex with underage girls have dogged him throughout his career, including his brief marriage to his then-15-year-old protege, Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash last August.

Sources said the Hawkins suit was settled for $250,000 in January 1998, shortly after Hawkins gave a seven-hour deposition in the case. The Sun-Times spoke to a friend of Hawkins, who confirmed Hawkins’ charges and said Kelly had sex with them together when both choir girls were underage.

Chicago police first began investigating allegations about Kelly and the girl on the tape about two years ago. At the time, the girl and her parents denied she was having sex with Kelly. Without hard evidence or eyewitness testimony, police and prosecutors were unable to press charges. Now, with the video, authorities tell the Sun-Times they are more optimistic about building a case against Kelly.

Illinois law prohibits adult men from having sex with girls under 17. It is a felony to videotape a sexual act with anyone under 18, prosecutors said.

A professional video maker told the Sun-Times the chances of fabricating a phony video that goes on for 26 minutes with Kelly’s image and voice are “slim to none.”

Kelly told Channel 5 that he believes an ex-manager is behind the allegations against him.

“The reason these things are happening I really do believe is because of the fact that I didn’t fall back as far as blackmail was concerned,” Kelly said. “I didn’t give them any money.

“The world is getting ready to watch me sing a song called ‘The World’s Greatest,’ and you’ve got a tape out there trying to ruin my career,” he said before his nationally televised performance.

“I have to say something to let my fans know that ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s going to be all right. I love you guys.'”