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Serayah on the Latest in Tiana's Story on 'Empire'
December 7, 2016  | By David Hinckley

Among its several other breakthroughs, Fox’s hit drama Empire has positioned a gay artist as an R&B star and built several storylines about the homophobia he faces – including from his own father.  

But as Empire heads into its final two fall episodes (9 p.m. ET Wednesday this week and 8 p.m. ET Wednesday next week), the key player in one of the show’s lesbian dramas says that turn surprised her as much as it surprised any viewer.

Serayah (top), who plays the rising singing star Tiana, was talking to TV writers Monday about those last two episodes, in which she will premiere her new single “Aces High.”

She also talked about Tiana’s now-ended affair with fellow singer India (left).

“I didn’t know it would go that way,” Serayah admitted. “It wasn’t in her [initial] breakdown. . . . It came later. I didn’t want to just do it. I wanted to know where she was coming from.”

So she talked to the writers, she said, “and what we came down with was that she’s going through a period of being in the industry, being in the fast life, when people are trying things they’ve never done before.”

Their affair was exposed by Tiana’s former manager Anika (Grace Gealey), and the revelation torpedoed Tiana’s relationship with Hakeem Lyon (Bryshere Y. Gray). Soon Tiana and India broke up as well.

Serayah said Monday it’s possible Tiana and Hakeem could get back together: “With exes, anything is possible.” 

She thinks the odds are longer for Tiana and India.

“It was an experiment,” says Serayah, from which Tiana concluded, “okay, not for me.”

Still, Serayah says, “I understood [why Tiana did it] a lot better” after she talked with the writers, and she says the storyline resonated with viewers.

“I get recognition when I’m out on the street,” she says. “I have the gay community on my side.”

The bigger battle for her affection on the show, though, she says, may be between Hakeem and her new boyfriend, rapper Graham.

“Her story is very open-ended,” says Serayah. “She has a lot of history and feelings for Hakeem (left). They’ve had their little ups and downs, but as far as Graham goes, she likes him but not as much as Hakeem.”

Who Tiana definitely isn’t liking at the moment is Nessa (Sierra McClain), a rival aspiring star who’s getting help from Hakeem’s brother Andre (Trai Byers),

“You will definitely be surprised at Tiana and Nessa” in upcoming episodes, says Serayah. “I’ve never seen Tiana so outraged at someone.”

Expect a different kind of heat in those girl scenes.

Serayah also hopes to bring the heat with her music, prominently including “Aces High.”

“It’s a really fun song,” she says. “It’s a crossover song that could be played anywhere.”

It’s also part of an album of new material that she’s recording. Originally she’d hoped it could drop early in 2017, but now, she says, that’s been pushed back.

Serayah had said before that she always dreamed of being a recording artist and an actress. Now that she’s reached both those goals at the age of 21, she says that honestly, “I don’t think about it a lot.

“The most surprising part to me is that the universe gave this to me in one package.”

Her inspirations, she says, are her mother, Janet Jackson and Beyonce – her mother for support, Jackson for being “so amazing on stage” and Beyonce for being so successful at business as well as performing.

Other television Serayah watches for fun include Insecure, Power, and black-ish. One of the things that drew her to Empire, she says, is that “it shows any people, including black people, can become moguls and millionaires.”

As for the ambitious Tiana, Serayah says “she and I have a lot of similarities. We’re go-getters and dreamers. There’s the singing and dancing, and how she’s fighting off all the noes and waiting to get the yes, then fighting to go forward.”

Wherever the show takes her.

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