Serayah McNeill – Empire
Q) What can you tell us about the new song?
Serayah: Well, it’s a really fun song. The scene that they had me do it in a fashion show and it’s premiered very, I think, eloquently and it’s definitely a crossover song. I like the song because it has that upbeat and that DJ feel that it can be played pretty much anywhere—a club, a rave, anything like that. That’s why I’m excited about the song. It’s a lot different than any other song Tiana has done.
Q) How’s the new album coming along?
Serayah: The album’s coming along great. I’m actually still working on it, it’s a work in progress. I’m really excited about it and everyone that I get to work with and in the future that I’m going to work with.
Q) Do you have any idea when it will be out or do they tell you?
Serayah: We were hoping by the top of the year, but I think we’re going to push that a little bit and just give it some more time to really be great.
Q) I was wondering about Tiana’s feelings. Does she have real feelings for Gram or real feelings for Hakeem?
Serayah: You know what I conclude about Tiana’s story because it’s very open-ended, I would say that Tiana has a lot of history and feelings for Hakeem (Bryshere Gray). Obviously they were dating in the first season, so they have a lot of ups and downs that they went through, things like that. I think that she definitely has that place with Hakeem, but as far as Gram (Romeo Miller), I think she liked him but probably not as much as Hakeem.
Q) And this great song you have coming out now, can you talk a little bit about if you participated in the writing of it or was it something that was brought to you that you just really clicked to?
Serayah: It was actually something that was brought to me. I know that there’s a writer that Ester Dean had worked with, and I love Ester Dean anyway. She’s amazing, and she writes hits all the time. So I was just really excited about the song. I loved it the way it was. It’s incredible, and I’m looking forward to the fans getting to hear it.
Q) I wanted to dig more into relationship stuff and also I’m going to cite another question about the fiasco that Tiana got involved with in terms of Becky at work. Any chance of reconciliation or wanting to get back with Hakeem? And then the second question is about how Becky sort of got into trouble trying to go to bat for you. Can you preview what’s going to happen next with respect to that situation?
Serayah: Becky (Gabourey Sidibe) definitely went and got into some trouble trying to get some of the songs released on the show, but things are looking up for Becky and Tiana, I can say that. And as far as the—what was the other question?
Q) With respect to Hakeem, your previous bae, he’s obviously moved on a little bit, but is there hope or a chance that you all may find one another back in each other’s arms again?
Serayah: I don’t know if that’s telling too much, but I really do think that she is so annoyed with him just because of everything that’s ever happened. People always say there’s always a chance exes will get back together, especially if they’re around each other. So we’ll see.
Q) Has there been an Empire tour where you actors, you and Hakeem and everybody who sings and makes these wonderful songs, are you guys ever going to go on tour and perform these songs for your fans?
Serayah: That’s actually a really good idea. I know first season that they did, Hakeem and Jamal did like a spot tour and a couple of dates around in malls and stuff like that, but I haven’t heard any word about us all being on tour. We’ll see, but I’m not sure.
Q) Without spoiling anything, I’m really fascinated with Tiana’s relationship or the plot line with Tiana and Nessa. You guys are the competing female singers on the show. So without spoiling anything, are viewers going to be surprised at all about how your story plays out over the season? What can we expect between you and Nessa?
Serayah A lot. They’re definitely going to be surprised because I don’t think they’ve seen Tiana be so outraged at someone and I don’t think that they would be expecting Nessa (Sierra A. McClain) to do what she did, so I’m really excited for everyone to see that battle between the two.
Q) Over the last few seasons we’ve seen Tiana—she really has sort of been in some ways like a pawn that the Lyons use. I mean, Rhonda did her wrong, and we can’t even explain all the things Hakeem has done, and now she’s caught between Xavier and Becky. I was really thrilled to see Tiana hit back at Hakeem with a really feminist song and really standing up for herself, so I was wondering am I reading this right, are we seeing some real development in Tiana and taking control? Related to that, is Andre going to be sorry that he messed with her?
Serayah: They’re definitely going to be sorry. I feel like anything done in the wrong, with the wrong intention, always comes back and gets you. Definitely people have been taking a shot at Tiana this season in the later episodes that we’ll show, and they’re going to get something back for it for sure—boomerang effect.
Q) Since we’re talking about Empire, I’m going to move over to your music and your debut album. Is there anyone that you could tell us that you’ve been working with producer-wise that you can reveal right now or is that kind of under wraps?
Serayah: I’ve been working with this producer named Donut. I’ve been working with Ester and a few others and hopefully more. But I’d definitely love to keep the team of just a couple people and have a sound that’s consistent, so I’m not too much focused on having everyone on the project, I just want it to be great.
Q) I also wanted to ask you with “Aces High, “that’s for Empire. Will you be featuring some of your songs on your debut album from Empire or is it going to be all originals that are completely separate from the show?
Serayah: I’m looking forward to doing all originals, but we’ll see. I feel like if Aces High does good enough and things like that, as like “Look But Don’t Touch” did, of course, but as of now it’s all originals.
Q) I wanted to piggyback on your album as well. What can fans expect from your album? Will the songs be similar to what Tiana sings on Empire or will you have a different style?
Serayah: I feel like the overall sound is going to be the same—not sound but as far as the regular listener listening to the song, my voice is going to sound familiar because obviously I’m singing and adding some of me on the tracks for Empire. But the vibe will be different, a little bit more sultry as well as the pop and the fun stuff but more sultry, soul, R&B stuff as well.
Q) Will any of your costars have any features on your upcoming album, and do you plan to have any collaborations planned?
Serayah: Yes, actually, I do. I hope to collaborate with Jeremih or someone that’s really good right now that’s out. I love Nick Jonas, Jeremih, they’re really great. But as far as right now I don’t have anyone from the show being on it.
Q) Who has been the most influential to you regarding your music career?
Serayah: Music career, I would say definitely probably a mix between my mom, Sade and Beyonce or Janet Jackson and Beyonce. I say that because obviously my mom supports everything I do and makes sure that I’m doing the best that I can all the time, even when I don’t want to or when I don’t feel like going anymore. I’d say Janet because she’s an amazing performer, and she just goes in on stage. I’d say Beyonce because she has an amazing career, and she’s such a big businesswoman in the midst of being a celebrity. So those three are my top.
Q) So first of all, you were talking about Hakeem and Tiana and whether or not they might get back together. Obviously things crash and burn with Gram. Do you think maybe Tiana will get a brand new romantic interest in the next season, like in the next couple months?
Serayah: Well, not in this season for sure but maybe in the next season. We’ll see, it depends on how things roll out with Hakeem, I guess.
Q) So you think maybe that’ll work or maybe she’ll be so busy ruling the pop scene she won’t have time for a man?
Serayah: Right. I feel like as of now it’s either because Gram is gone, it’s either her career or Hakeem. I don’t think it will be anyone new because of what Gram has done. I think that’s burned her bridge for new people.
Q) I understand that. And we were talking about you working on your new album. Your friend Taylor Swift is always about to drop a new album. Do you think maybe you guys will ever end up in the studio together?
Serayah: Maybe, but I don’t see as far as us planning to do something, but if something organically happened, that would be amazing.
Q) What can you say about what’s going to be happening with Tiana in these final two episodes of this year?
Serayah: I can say that she’s definitely focused on her career like always, but she’s getting picked on a little bit by people who want to be in her spotlight, like Nessa and then people who want to be back with her like Hakeem is really trying. Throughout all this, she’s just trying to press forward and get this music that she wants out, out and that’s what really matters to her—trying not to let the personal life override, but sometimes you just can’t help it.
Q) You’ve been part of the show since beginning, so looking at the evolution of your character, Tiana, where would you like it to go in next seasons or coming seasons? As just an audience or as a person who’s also in similar shoes being a singer yourself, where would you like it to go and how does playing this role impact you in your personal life?
Serayah: Well, as far as my personal life, it impacts it in the way of being on TV and being recognized, but I think it’s pretty black and white because it’s glitz and glam for Empire, but I’m still working on everything in my personal life as far as other projects and things like that. I think for Tiana, the evolution of the character has been amazing, but I would like to just see her I guess do more of the music and everything that we’ve seen her do but I think just hear more from who she is maybe and things like that that we haven’t really seen from her.
Q) Concerning you’ve spent a couple years with the character now, do you get to talk to the writers and improvise or is it still very scripted at this point? How is the environment on set?
Serayah: The environment on set is great, but as far as the writers, yes, before the season, I sometimes get to sit down with the writers and just think of different plots and things that could go on with my character. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen or it’s going to roll out that way because of all the other characters, but I definitely throw out ideas.
Q) You’re part of this wonderful show that’s kind of breaking the mold of TV shows for people of color, black TV shows that are more universal and after that, we have so many wonderful shows since, from Power to Atlanta that are doing the same thing and expanding that universe. How does it feel to be part of such a wonderful show? What’s your message to other storytellers, performers who are in similar space who will expand their space? Working on this show, what would be your message?
Serayah: What I really admire about the show that I’m on is not only that it is a black or relatively African-American cast but just that we’re seen in the light of not only black people can come from in the gutter or have nothing, but they can rise and become moguls and millionaires and things like that. So that’s what I really admire about the show. Also, I think it’s really amazing that now at this time we get to have black television back and see it back in action. For the young kids watching, it’s great.
Q) Absolutely, it reflects the world we live in, and that’s wonderful. What is your favorite TV show right now that’s on TV? What do you like to watch when you get some time?
Serayah I’m really into this show called Insecure. It’s on HBO. It just came out. It’s hilarious. The other show that I—
Q) Wonderful, it’s an amazing show.
Serayah: You like it? Yes, it’s amazing. Also the other show that I like is Power, and I really enjoy, I really like Blackish too. It’s a cool comedy. It’s super ditsy and funny and quirky.
Q) I completely agree. I love Insecure. It’s amazing. You should check out Atlanta if you get a chance, if you haven’t. It’s a wonderful show.
Serayah: I watched one episode, but I haven’t got to really get into it. It looked really good the way that it was shot.
Q) I wanted to ask you, just to go along with the idea of how much collaboration you have on your character with the writers, you shared with the last person that was talking, but what would you say are the big differences or similarities between you and Tiana? Is there anything that you really fought for that you wanted Tiana to be in terms of how she is on the show?
Serayah: I would say me and Tiana have a lot of similarities as far as being a go-getter and a dreamer and singing and dancing. All this stuff is what I’ve always wanted to do. And yes, of course, this is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life, so definitely I’ve been in the shoes of fighting all the no’s and waiting to get the yes and once you get the yes, pressing forward and doing what you can with your opportunity that you got.
Q) Just to add to that, because also one storyline that you had in terms of your love life, of course now it’s kind of this—well it was this love triangle with you, Hakeem and Gram, but also your character is bi-sexual. Was that something that—how did you feel initially about portraying a character that was bi-racial? Was that no big deal to you or was it important? Or how was that for you?
Serayah: When I first got word that that was what was going to happen, I didn’t know how to feel, to be honest. I have no problem with people who are bisexual or transgender or anything like that, but to play a character I just didn’t know—it wasn’t in her breakdown. It came to me later in the script. I just wanted to know where she was coming from as far as an actor. I didn’t want to just be doing it. So my only thing was just to have a talk with the writers and be like okay, why is she this way? What we came down for with the character is that she was going through a period of being in the industry, being in the fast life, and some people get caught up and they start trying things they’ve never done, whether it’s drugs, whether that’s being bisexual, whether that’s whatever and they go on this fast road. But the thing for Tiana was it was just an experiment and she’s like not for me, and that’s what it was. So I had a far greater understanding about it after we talked.
Q) Do you ever get any sort of mail or anything from people? Because one of the great things about Empire is yes, it’s a soap opera, but it goes after so many important issues that you wouldn’t think of for essentially a soap opera that’s set in the world of hip hop. Did you get any mail or anything from people in the bi-racial community or anything like that or was it just part of who Tiana was, no biggie?
Serayah: I don’t think I got any mail, but I definitely get recognition. When I’m out on the street, I definitely have the gay community on my side for sure.
Q) And is there anything that you really want for Tiana in the future, one sort of type of song or collaboration that you want for Tiana on the show?
Serayah: I always wanted Tiana to collaborate with Jussie, and in future episodes she finally gets to. Now I think she’s good. It would be amazing if she had a collaboration with a guest star on the show. That would be really cool, but other than that, I think I’ve reached that now that I got to do a song with Jussie. It was really cool.
Q) Wouldn’t it be cool if you guys actually had Issa Rae on the show since you were talking about Insecure? That would be pretty cool.
Serayah Yes, Issa. Yes, that would be pretty good.
Q) I wanted to ask, you’ve talked in interviews before, I know you started making music when you were very young, and as a child you said that you always wanted to be on a TV show and have a show where you could sing and act. So now I think you’re 21, and you’re on this monster hit, so I wondering if you could tell us how the reality compares to the dream and what has surprised you or what’s it been like to cross this major goal off your list at such a young age?
Serayah: It’s actually unreal sometimes. I don’t think about it a lot until I get a question like this. It’s really a blessing to be able to do what you want to do in general, but to be able to accomplish such a—not a far-fetched dream but a far-fetched dream in people’s eyes because when you look at celebrities and you think of movies and shows, you think of things and people, like they’re not human and it’s in other world. It’s really amazing that I got to be a part of it at this young age. That’s totally correct. But what’s the most surprising part about it to me that I’m still surprised at is that yes, I did want to act and sing and everything, but the universe gave it to me in one package, and it’s really, really cool. Actually I’m just always grateful for the opportunity, and I’m just always working really to just work on different stuff and just to keep the ball rolling.
Q) Aside from the album, do you have anything else new in the works that you want to share with your fans? Like on hiatus, besides your album, will you be working on any guest spots on shows or movies or anything like that?
Serayah: Yes, actually I’m on a movie that I just got word that’s going to Sundance and it’s called Burning Sands. I’m really excited about that because it’s a film and I also have another film that I can’t talk about, but I’m really excited to do as well.