Serayah McNeill Reveals How 'Empire' Took Tiana From Pop Newbie To Empowered Star
Empire's Tiana Brown had one of the most memorable character introductions on the show — and that's saying something for a series that features the unforgettable Cookie Lyon (played by Taraji P. Henson). In the second episode of the first season, Tiana was rehearsing a sexy song called "Adios" and Hakeem Lyon (Bryshere Gray, aka Yazz the Greatest) became smitten with her as soon as he saw her. And the same is true for theseries' producers, who expanded the role of Tiana on Empire, played by Serayah McNeill, once they saw the chemistry between her and Gray.
"Her character has definitely evolved," the 19-year-old actress and singer says of Tiana. "She is raw and uncut, but I believe she was going to be looked at as more of an upcoming star. Once I did a scene dancing with Yazz, they saw the dailies and just loved it, saying 'No, she has to be Beyonce.'" Tiana and Hakeem then became the couple known as "Takeem" and began a very successful professional relationship on the show, performing "Keep It Moving" and "Drip Drop" together. "I think she just evolved at the right time on camera," McNeill says. "From then on, I had to be decked out in fur coats and I got to do a lot of playful stuff as far as costume and makeup."
And that paved the way for Tiana to delight the audience — and McNeill — with some unforgettable Empire moments of her own.
Tiana's Relationship With India
Soon after Tiana and Hakeem became a couple, the show revealed that Hakeem was also seeing a woman named Camilla (played by Naomi Campbell). But a later episode revealed that Tiana had her own affair going on — with a woman named India.
"That was so crazy, because I wasn't expecting her to have that turn in her character and for her to respond to Hakeem, 'I don't care,'" McNeill says. "The show gives women a lot of power and I like that. I wasn't expecting it, but when I talked to the writers and got more insight on why she was doing it, I said 'OK, I'm rolling with it.'"
Tiana's "Girl Power Moment"
When all was revealed, Hakeem was pretty upset about Tiana's secret love, but Tiana did not care about Hakeem's own affair. In fact, Tiana was cool to keep it professional and told Hakeem, "Let's get back to work" — and that's a scene that McNeill considers to be Tiana's "girl power moment."
"It wasn't a normal response as far as people look at women, so that was really fun to do that," McNeill says. "People were expecting her to break down, but she stood her ground, and said 'let's go.' She took control over him. I think it was symbolic that women can be strong without a man and that needs to be said. It's so cool that it's on the number one show, because a lot people are tuning into that."
McNeill's Favorite Tiana Moments
McNeill is a singer and performer in her own right — she'll be releasing her own new music this summer — so most of her favorite Tiana scenes have been the epic musical productions on Empire. Her character was featured in a glitzy and glam turn at the (fictionalized) Teen Choice Awards, Hakeem's very sexy video for the hit song "Drip Drop," and their collobaration on "Keep It Movin'."
"'Keep It Movin'' was such a fun performance," McNeill says. "It gave me a taste of a really big production. Me, Yazz, and the dancers just loved it as performers be able to do that."
What will Season 2 hold for Tiana Brown? McNeill is hoping she'll return to the series as the pop star, as are fans, but we'll just have to wait and see if we're treated to more great moments from Tiana.