How Sierra McClain Prepared For Her 'Empire' Role

Suffice it to say that Empire has plenty to say, and, boy, does it go right for the kill when it comes to drama. I love when the show introduces a new character into the madness, and Nessa, played by Sierra McClain, is front and center on Empire. She has the voice of an angel and the attitude to blend in with the rest of the Lyon clan. And both of those could be said to come from her actress' own experiences. "Working with my father, he’s been doing music for a long time, and he’s worked with Solange and Angie Stone and… he’s been doing music for a while," says McClain in an interview with Bustle. "My studio sessions with him and with my sisters really prepped me [for Empire].”

She can definitely attest to what it’s like working in the spotlight with your own clan. Her parents are musicians, and she is in a girl group called McClain with her sisters, China Anne McClain and Lauryn McClain. Growing up in a family of musicians had to be quite a creative upbringing (and pretty loud, I would imagine), and McClain says it was the best preparation she could have asked for to get ready for playing Nessa.

“I was very nervous in my first studio session for 'Need Freedom' because I never had sang a full song by myself!" she reveals. "I didn’t even know if I could do it! I’ve never had the powerful voice, and I was like ‘Lord, I pray my voice holds up and I pray I’m able to do it.'" Luckily, she could call upon her family to help her through. “...The vocal engineer in the first session actually reminded me of my father. So I was calm and ready to go in there when it was finally time to record.”

Nessa is the protégé of Shine Johnson, a producer who had both a knack for violence and some history with Lucious. He wanted her to get a deal with Empire Entertainment, and Lucious, being the kind gentleman that he is, bargained Shine down to a feature in a song. Nessa got her big break when she stepped in on "Need Freedom" for Jamal while he was having a panic attack, but while her star began to rise, and her feelings for Andre Lyon began to blossom, her relationship with Shine began to suffer.

"[Nessa's] very close to Shine, and I think family, which is what she really considers him to be, they’re going to have their issues," McClain says." They’re going to have their ups and downs — people fight — but she does love him. The dynamic of their relationship is very… it’s like a normal family relationship, so people will have to watch to see what happens between those two."

Empire features, oh, a whole lot of family drama, but McClain assures everyone that real life in a musical family is not nearly that crazy, even if there can be a nugget of truth to Empire’s shenanigans. "The one thing I love about the show is that, though they go through a lot, some of it is a great representation of what happens in actual families. Families can... have similar issues. My family and I are extremely close... and we work together and we love each other, but we are far from perfect," she says. "I think when you have six creative spirits living amongst each other and everyone is strong and everyone is opinionated and everyone is highly creative, you’re going to have some and back and forth and spirited conversations. It’s just what happens!”

Well, at least we know that Lucious Lyon’s awfulness doesn’t translate exactly into real life. I don’t know that I could handle it if it did. Luckily, it seems like Nessa is more than capable of handling Lucious Lyon, even if his awfulness is very real in her world. “Nessa is very strong,” says McClain, “and you will begin to see her blossom a little bit. That’s the beauty of playing a character like this, because you have somewhere to go. I want everyone to… see where she goes and the choices that she makes. It’s very interesting.”

Images: Chuck Hodes/FOX (2)