One of my favorite new shows is the Fox network’s Empire. Empire features fantastic performances by stars Taraji P. Hensen and Terrence Howard. The duo run a record label, so the show is also filled with awesome original tunes written just for the show, written and produced by Timbaland and his partner Jim Beanz (who also plays rapper Titan on the show). The songs are released on iTunes, following in the footsteps of the music from Fox’s other musical hit, Glee. Fox has had major success bringing Glee‘s music to the masses on iTunes and Empire is on its way to doing the same. Overall, Empire has been a huge hit and is considered Fox’s highest-rated new show in years. The show averages 14.5 million total viewers and is the top-rated new show in the 18-49 demo.
Hensen and Howard play parents to three adult men, two of which are musical artists, including the exceptionally talented Jamal. Jamal is played by Jussie Smollett, an amazing actor, singer, and producer. Smollett not only knocks the singing he does out of the park but he has helped Timbaland write and produce some of the show’s original music. Smollett is definitely the runaway breakout star of the show and he and his music have become incredibly popular since the show began in early January.
Smollett’s character, Jamal, is gay and came out of the closet in the last episode. A lot of Jamal’s drama comes from getting his father, Howard’s character, to approve. Jamal’s sexuality is one of Empire’s most discussed and emotional story lines, especially because of his music titan father’s homophobia.
You can’t help but wonder if Smollett is acting to portray a gay man or if he happens to be gay in real life.
Smollett has now come out of the closet in a YouTube segment taped after his apperance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. After taping the show, Smollett asked Ellen and her team to film an extra special segment since he had not addressed his sexuality. In the special EllenTube video, Smollett seems very comfortable and warm, touching Ellen’s leg often and thanking her for being such an important role model for the LGBT community.
He tells Ellen, “It’s very, very important to me that my first performance and talk show was with you. You’ve been such an inspiration to so many but also to me…It’s important to me that it gets across that there is no closet. There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in.”
Smollett never states outright that he is gay but it can be assumed from the video, and from the large equal sign tattoo on his arm.
Smollett told Entertainment Weekly on the show’s set last month that the role has impacted him greatly.“It makes me wanna cry it really does,” Smollett said, as his eyes welled up. “It’s really, really special. As artists, we don’t always get to do the roles that really mean something. To be able to tell this story is such an honor because I get so many letters from kids that say that they didn’t know where to turn, they didn’t have anybody to look up to. Somebody wrote me a letter after the second episode and they said that it gave them the strength to come out to their parents. To me, it’s such a blessing to be able to play Jamal because it’s making people somehow feel like they’re not alone.”
Jussie’s sister is actress Jurnee Smollett, who got an early start as Michelle Tanner’s best friend on Full House and starred in Eve’s Bayou. She transitioned into an adult actor, having been featured on Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and True Blood.
Enjoy some of these great scenes featuring Jussie’s incredible talents! In the first one, he sings that it’s the type of song that “makes a man love a man,” which is how his character Jamal comes out to the world. You can see how his father, Lucious, looks disapproving.