It's official: Empire is 2015's hottest and newest hit. How do I know this? Not only has the drama series already been renewed for a second season, but everyone is talking about it everywhere — even my mom. In between loving reminders to take vitamins and eat my veggies, my mother sings the praises of and quotes the wisdom of another sassy matriarch: Empire's Cookie Lyon, played by Taraji P. Henson. The actress has been nominated for an Oscar (for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2009) and has an amazing singing voice, but will we see Henson sing on Empire?
Sure, the music industry soap mainly focuses on the singing careers of Cookie's sons Jamal (played by Jussie Smollett) and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), as well as the business dealings of eldest son Andre (Trai Byers). Last week, though, we got a taste of how Cookie and Lucious (Terrance Howard) used to write and arrange songs together for his music career. But what about Cookie's own vocal chops? Henson can totally sing — her breakout role involved her belting out the hook on Hustle & Flow's Oscar-winning song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" and she has a record deal.
Well, Smollett told MTV we're definitely going to hear sample of Henson's singing this season. "Taraji really can sing! [sings] It’s hard out here for a pimp. You will get a little taste of the voice of Miss Henson, and hopefully, you will get more in season two."
Empire and Hustle & Flow, in which Henson also starred with Howard, aren't the only projects to showcase Henson's great voice. Get acquainted with Henson's vocal talent before she belts one out as Cookie.
Hustle & Flow
It's hard to talk about Henson, Howard, and music without talking more about this Oscar-nominated 2005 movie. Howard starred as a pimp named DJay who wants to become a rapper. Henson plays Shug, a pregnant sex worker who sings the hooks to DJay's songs (by Three 6 Mafia). Together, they make beautiful music on and off the tracks.
Who knew that Howard and Henson would reunite 10 years later to do the same on TV? Well, it was all thanks to Henson, who issued an ultimatum to the Empire producers to hire Howard as Lucious. “We have a trust level,” Henson told Entertainment Weekly about her relationship with Howard. “We have an amazing chemistry. I just knew the level we could take these two characters to.”
Howard told EW that he and Henson raise each others' acting game. “Taraji thinks she’s a better actor than me, so it’s a straight-up war,” he said, laughing. “Taraji refuses to be outdone. The competition is extremely hot.”
Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself
After many non-singing roles, Henson played April, a self-destructive alcoholic singer in this 2009 Perry movie, which, yes, features Madea to tell it like it is. Through certain circumstances (no spoilers!), April learns to love and take care of her niece and nephews, as well as herself. Henson sings a cover of Aretha Franklin's classic "Rock Steady" and the gospel song "Oh Lord I Want You to Help Me" (seen above, starting at 0:43).
"Acting is my thing, but singing is something I can do and I like that experience," Henson told Bankrate. "You get a high on the stage when everyone is singing your song. I'm passionate about my work and it's given me rewards in return."
Back in 2011, Henson told Billboard that her vocal talents landed her a record deal, but didn't disclose where or which label. She mentioned she wanted to take her time with it and explore the creative process.
"I just signed a contract for a record deal," she said. "I did, but it has to be something special. I'm not interested in disposable music. I believe people want to hear it, so you have to give the people what they want."
And now, the people can't wait to hear Cookie Lyon sing her heart out on Empire.
Image: Chuck Hodes/FOX