Empire’s huge cast and amazing music has made it a pop culture favorite with record-breaking ratings in its first two seasons. The show has also never shied away from controversy constantly embroiling its characters in vulnerable states from Jamal’s drug use to Andre’s mental health challenges, both of which carry a huge weight and responsibility for the cast and for Daniels as creator, “I look at myself as an artist first,” Daniels states, “I’m not here to please. I’m here to make you think.” Empire does make you think while ultimately keeping you entertained.
“I think it’s a group of forward thinkers, artists, who wanted to do something different for TV.”—Taraji P. Henson
For actor Trai Byers, who plays Andre, playing a character with bi-polar disorder is not just a challenge but an opportunity that carries significant weight with his fans, “Dealing with the issue of bi-polar disorder in this show has given a lot of people courage. Mental health is a stigma that can be helped with a diagnosis, and I think it resonates with fans. I hear that from them a lot.”
While Empire continues to tackle difficult issues, it still keeps the elements that make it fun. There is still plenty of standoffs in Season 4, as the war between the Lyons and the Dubois family escalates. There will also still be plenty of great music. Star Bryshere “Yazz” Gray credits the role and working with music producer, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins as being a source of inspiration in his own music career. It was the music that attracted Rumer Willis to the show where she plays singer/recovering addict, Tori Ash, “I was a huge fan of the show before I was ever on it, or even had the possibility to be on it. For me, I think it was the first thing since Glee that had really become a venue into doing music (on television) in a way that wasn’t cheesy, and was really allowing good musicians to be musicians on television.”
With Season 4, Empire will seek to solidify its place in popular culture history by continuing to present dramatic storylines, music, and fun. It’s a formula that has made it a fan favorite. Taraji P. Henson credits the entire team for its success, “I think it’s a group of forward thinkers, artists, who wanted to do something different for TV.” Terrence Howard says it succinctly, by affirming that even when Empire is gone, “They’ll be trying to recreate this formula for a long time.”
Empire returns to FOX tonight at 8/7 ET/PT.