Exclusive: Serayah On Claiming Tiana’s ‘Empire’ Crown, Her One Wardrobe Must-Have & All Of That ‘Burning Sands’ Controversy
Serayah is already one of the most vibrant newcomers in Hollywood, even though portraying the vivacious Tiana Brown, Empire’s wildly successful pop star, was her first major acting role.
An actress, singer, and model, the 21-year old California native has already slayed in a Taylor Swift music video and shined as the witty sorority girl Angel, in Netflix’s highly anticipated film, Burning Sands.
This season on Empire, we’ve watched Tiana stand on her own two feet despite drama constantly being placed in her path. However, it seems like Empire Entertainment’s most popular female vocalist might have found herself a worthy adversary in Nessa (Sierra McClain), a new soul singer who is coming for her crown.
The midseason premiere of Empire airs this evening, and JETmag.com got the opportunity to speak with Serayah about Empire, the one thing she wants to steal from Tiana’s wardrobe, and all of that Burning Sands controversy.
JET: Tiana has really come into her own during this season of Empire. She doesn’t want to be defined by her relationships, and I think a lot of women, particularly in entertainment can relate to that. Why is it important for Tiana to stand on her own without having to be one-half of an industry couple?
Serayah: I really think it just goes back to women being independent in business and things like that, and I think this is Tiana paying homage to that. She’s her own feminist and activist in a way, and it’s important for her to show that, especially to someone like Hakeem who thinks that things revolve around him. She’s focused, and she wants her career first; he comes second, which is so hard for guys to take.
JET: What do you think about the rivalry that is being fostered between Tiana and Nessa? Do you think there is room for both women at Empire?
Serayah: I absolutely think Tiana and Nessa can be at Empire together because as far as the label is concerned, they do sing different genres of music. But, I do see Nessa trying to get into Tiana’s lane. That’s the only thing that Tiana doesn’t like; when someone comes for her.
JET: In response to Nessa and Andre’s relationship, Tiana and Hakeem are back on; at least in the eyes of the public. However, Tiana doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about rekindling their relationship, how do you think that’s going to end?
Serayah: That’s tough. For me, I think I understand Hakeem’s point of view as far as his rivalry with Andre. But for Tiana, she’s just always been about her music, and anything extra she hasn’t really had to deal with; especially as far as the Lyon’s drama is concerned. So, I think it’s new for her, and she’s like, “I don’t know if I want to get into all of that.” (Laughing)
JET: Let’s talk about Burning Sands. It’s a fantastic film, and it got a ton of people talking about hazing and Greek life. What was that experience like, especially because a college campus is vastly different from the glitz and glamor of Empire?
Serayah: It was actually really amazing to step back into a character that kind of lives a more normal life than Tiana does. So, it was cool to be able to portray that and to be amongst other young people and to have a story about real life. Not that Empire isn’t, but Burning Sands is just regular kids trying to make something out of themselves; fitting in and trying to be like anyone else. So, I think that’s why I was super excited to play Angel. She’s a smart girl, and she’s in a sorority. So, it was really really great to be able to dive into that type of character.
JET: Were you surprised at all about the controversy that surrounded Burning Sands?
Serayah: I wasn’t aware of it at first, but, once we made the film it got brought to my attention. I actually dealt with it from someone who is in a fraternity. While I understand their point of view, there are so many stories in the world, and that’s what movies are for, that’s what acting is, being able to tell stories about people who have lived and dealt with these real situations. I just think it was cool for us to be able to bring light to a certain situation that maybe no one else was willing to take the risk to talk about.
JET: The fashion on Empire, particularly the pieces that Tiana and Cookie get to wear are just gorgeous. Do you have any favorite items?
Serayah: Oh man! There was this time when Tiana finally got to wear a chill outfit for one scene and I had on these Yeezy’s, and me and Taraji [P. Henson] were arguing on set over them. She was like, “I’m taking those after the scene.” and I’m like, “No you’re not!” They were the over-the-knee olive green Yeezy heels. So, those were part of a chill fit that I would actually wear on a day-to-day basis.
JET: What are your must-have products that you keep in your trailer at all times?
Serayah: I always keep a toothbrush and mouthwash. (Laughing) I always keep all of my hygiene products, cocoa butter, spray, everything. You just never know what you’re going to be doing and you might just want to refresh.
JET: Have you seen any new films or TV shows lately? If so, what are you obsessing over?
Serayah: Right now, I’m really such a reality TV head. I’m watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta. (Laughing) It’s been super crazy this season!
JET: What’s next for you? I know you are working on your solo music project and single. That must be extremely exciting.
Serayah: It’s so exciting. Honestly, I’ve just been going on auditions and working on music in the studio. It’s coming full circle with my sound and what it’s going to be. So, that’s going to be coming out very very very soon. I’m really excited actually.
JET: Finally, what will Tiana’s journey for the rest of this season of Empire look like?
Serayah: For the remainder of this season, Tiana is going to be coming to terms with her relationship with Hakeem. Obviously, she’s still going to be focused on her music, but I think a lot of it is trying to figure out where she fits into Hakeem’s life now. It’s just so different; he has a kid and things like that. So, I think there are different aspects that she is just not ready to come to terms with even though she wants to because she has chosen him. She doesn’t know how to tell him, “I don’t know about this.” So, I think that will be her rollercoaster for this second part of the season.
JET: Congratulations on all of your success Serayah and thank you!
The midseason premiere of Empire airs TONIGHT at 9 PM ET on FOX.