Serayah Dishes On The “Empire” Finale + The Possibility Of Joining A Cookie Spin-Off

SerayahPhoto Credit: Rowan Daly

This week marked an entertainment milestone as FOX’s Empire came to a close after six seasons.The Golden Globe-winning series, which revolves around the family who owns the fictional hip hop and entertainment company Empire Entertainment, was abruptly ended two episodes early because the coronavirus lockdowns prevented filming, giving many fans—as well as cast members—a lack of resolution.

While COVID-19 may have halted operations on the hit series, it succeeded in bringing the cast closer, says star Serayah McNeill, who plays recording artist Tiana Brown, who notes that she checks in with most of her cast members in some way several times a week, be it by text or social media. Which maybe—just maybe—is a sign that something good can come of the current darkness.

“I think that this time is definitely a time for us to reboot and figure out what’s most important for us,” she tells Haute Living. “Not just for the U.S., but for the world, for everyone. It’s a human thing right now, and everyone is feeling the same feelings. [This] unites us in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time, and I’m grateful for that.”

We chatted with the 24-year-old star just after she hosted a virtual finale viewing party earlier this week, which was presented by Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food and Guillotine Vodka, about the end of the Empire era, how she’s productively spending the quarantine and what’s coming next.SerayahPhoto Credit: Rowan Daly

How are you holding up? This is a hugely impactful time for you with not just the Coronavirus quarantine, but also the ending of “Empire.” Let’s talk about the former first. How have you been surviving it?

It’s honestly a mix of things. Working out some days, relaxing some days, just taking advantage of the time honestly. I was juicing, I’ve been doing some herbal teas-there’s this herbal tea by Dr. Sebi, it’s a chamomile tea—it’s really good, I just I drank that yesterday, it was really calming. I’m just trying to do things that are motivating and relaxing at the same time, a balance between the two.

How have you been spending your time while in quarantine?

Reading books and catching up on emails. I’ve been creating my website that’s now live right now; that took a week. I’m glad I got to sit down and be very meticulous with it. another thing I’ve been doing that I really hadn’t had time to do is content, just coming up with new ideas. I’ve been recording music a lot and writing a lot.

Do you have any recommendations?

Right now I’m reading A New Earth. It’s really amazing. I’m taking my time getting through it because it’s very detailed.It’s all about removing the ego and finding a way to live a more fulfilled life. It’s a good read.

This week marked the series finale of “Empire.” Tell us about your virtual watch party and how you celebrated safely at home.

It was so fun! Before the show came on I did a Q&A with some cast and I actually got to get one of our executive producers—Sanaa Hamri—on just to talk to fans and say our final goodbye as [well as] anything they were feeling the fans should know. I also got to get on Jim Beanz, who is a writer/producer and he did a lot of music with Timbaland in the first season and I really wanted people to know where their favorite songs came from. Afterwards we had DJ sets by DJ Vision here in LA and he turned us up, we had Guillotine vodka. It was a real party. ..We had a lot of fun.

Speaking of the coronavirus’ impact, fans are saying they feel the ending didn’t have a proper resolution, likely because two episodes were cut due to the coronavirus. Do you feel like the ending was fulfilling?

You know what? I understand the ending because of how we had to stop filming of course. Of course I would have loved to finish off the last two episodes and give the actual finale ending but I was really proud of what they put together and they made it like a bossy music fest, but I would love to if there was a chance to continue and to finish out the story. I would love to do that along with my other cast mates. I think it’s only right: We were filming for six years and we didn’t get to have an ending for ourselves. We didn’t get to do a wrap party, to say goodbye to each other, none of that. I would love to have that moment for sure.

Was it bittersweet, this goodbye, or did it feel rushed? Did it feel like maybe it wasn’t goodbye, since there’s a possibility that you’ll still reshoot those two final episodes?

It’s still bittersweet. Whether that happens or not I know the end is here or near, right? It’s totally sweet because I’m just excited for the future, to get into more projects, I have a couple of auditions coming up this week. I’m excited to be part of another story that’s going to impact the world in such a way that “Empire” did. I’m really excited for the future.

SerayahPhoto Credit: Zoom/Serayah

Are you looking at film-based projects or TV for the future?

Both! For sure. I would love to do film because I’ve been doing TV for six years.

Who and what are you going to miss the most about “Empire”?

I’m going to miss the performances because I love performing. I’m going to miss the cast. I feel like our cast was so diverse and so well-rounded. Everyone had their own thoughts and beliefs. Every time I was at work I was learning something new. They’re also a very outspoken group of people. It was fun. All of the theatrics that are in the show are really happening behind-the-scenes. It’s funny to watch, it’s funny to be there.  I’m going to miss them for sure.

Who from the cast have you been talking to often, if not daily, while in quarantine?

Honestly, I’ve been talking to quite a few people. I’ve bene talking to Ta’Rhonda [Jones] who plays Porsha, I always hang out with Katlynn [Simone] and Rhyon [Nicole Brown] who [play] Treasure and Maya on the show. I talked to Mario not too long ago. Chet [Hanks], who wasn’t in the last season, he got on [my live final pre-party]. I try to touch base with everyone here and there, whether it’s through Instagram or texting.

Is there one defining moment that best sums up your experience on the show?

Season one, when I just first got to Chicago and got into the show—I think [it was] the first week—I had a lot of challenging scenes because I had just got there and I had to do all these sexual insinuated things with Hakeem [Bryshere Gray] and it was very nerve-wracking because I had just met these people and I had to just jump in there. One thing that really stuck with me is how [kind] Terrence [Howard, who plays Lucious Lyon, was] from day one. [On my first day on set] he knocked on my trailer and said, ‘Hey, I just want to give you a few words of encouragement, just go for it, you’re a star.’ He was going in and he didn’t have to do that. I was like, ‘Wow, he’s an amazing person. He’s so consistent.’ Everyone says the same thing. I mean, he’s Terrence Howard and his work is amazing, so for him to give me all of the tips and pointers that he has [has been incredible]. It has been amazing to just pick up on his and Taraji [P. Henson, who plays Cookie Lyon]’s vibes and watch them do their thing. The leads definitely set the vibe for what’s going on for the rest of us right. Not only are they the leads, but the younger cast, we really do look up to them. I grew up watching them on TV. For [Terrence] to give me words of encouragement or for Taraji to give me words of encouragement, it really means a lot.

If there’s a Cookie spin-off, would you join it?

I would definitely consider that. What’s my role? What’s Tiana doing? How can we amplify the situation? I think that a Taraji spin-off calls for a lot of women and a whole new plot twist on the story. It would probably be more about the business side, instead of so [focused] on family. I’d be super into the idea.

What to you is the greatest luxury in life and why?

Time. That’s a big thing for me, because if we use our time correctly, I think it pays off for us… and you can’t get it back. We spend our whole life waiting on it. I think time would be the greatest luxury in life, and making sure that you spend your time wisely.

What’s next for you?

I’m dropping my single “I miss you” featuring Blac Youngsta in May, and I’m planning a release for an EP this summer. I want the fans to stay tuned because there’s more to come.

Stay tuned—video is coming! 

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