(AllHipHop Features) With “Empire” having just aired it’s season three fall finale this week, it’s all systems go for actress Serayah McNeill who plays sultry Empire artist Tiana on the show. With a highly anticipated debut solo album set to drop by the end of this year or early 2017, Serayah had a lot to say about the behind the scenes atmosphere on “Empire,” her dream team musical collaborations for her upcoming album, her favorite show to watch when she’s not working on “Empire,” and what it was like to tackle hot button issues like bisexuality on the Fox television hit. Take a look at what she had to say below:
AllHipHop: You have some new music that is coming out. Can you give us a hint as to whom you will be working with or would like to work with in order to make a real statement with what will be your first album as a solo artist?
Serayah McNeill: I’ve been working with this producer named Donut. I’ve been working with Ester and a few others and hopefully more. But I’d definitely love to keep the team of just a couple people and have a sound that’s consistent, so I’m not too much focused on having everyone on the project, I just want it to be great.
You’ve had some real success with your Empire songs “Aces High” and “Look But Don’t Touch” as performed as Tiana on Empire. Can fans expect some of these Empire songs alongside new Serayah originals on your debut album?
SM: I’m looking forward to doing all originals, but we’ll see. I feel like if “Aces High” does good enough and things like that, as like “Look But Don’t Touch” did, of course, but as of now it’s all originals.
Your friend Taylor Swift is extremely prolific when it comes to dropping a new albums and working with others on exciting projects. Do you think that the two of you will eventually end up in the studio together?
SM: Maybe, but I don’t see as far as us planning to do something, but if something organically happened, that would be amazing.
Exactly how is the new album going?
SM: The album’s coming along great. I’m actually still working on it, it’s a work in progress. I’m really excited about it and everyone that I get to work with and in the future that I’m going to work with.
So, seeing as you are still working on it, is it still scheduled for the end of this year or might it bleed over into the new year?
SM: We were hoping by the top of the year, but I think we’re going to push that a little bit and just give it some more time to really be great.
You’ve really developed a strong following based on your style as Tiana, but she is a fictional character. Seeing as you aren’t Tiana but the people who are your fans know you best as Tiana, what is the difference between your sound and Tiana’s sound? Will their be a marked difference when it comes to your debut album, or will you have pretty much the same style?
SM: I feel like the overall sound is going to be the same—not sound but as far as the regular listener listening to the song, my voice is going to sound familiar because obviously I’m singing and adding some of me on the tracks for Empire. But the vibe will be different, a little bit more sultry as well as the pop and the fun stuff but more sultry, soul, R&B stuff as well.
In putting together this solo album, without giving too much away, do you or did you have a secret short list when it came down to must do collaborations? Also can we expect to hear any of your Empire costars as featured artists?
SM: Yes, actually, I do. I hope to collaborate with Jeremih or someone that’s really good right now that’s out. I love Nick Jonas, Jeremih, they’re really great. But as far as right now I don’t have anyone from the show being on it.
Let’s switch gears for a moment. Undoubtedly it must be very exciting to play such a key role on a show as popular as Empire. Nevertheless, at times it’s got to be hard playing a character who is so close to who you are as a young emerging musical star yourself. Given that you’ve had three seasons to grow with this character and work with the writers on the show to make her as real as possible, what parts of Tiana are all you? Additionally is there anything that you really fought for that you needed Tiana to represent fictionally due to who you are in real life as Serayah?
SM: I would say me and Tiana have a lot of similarities as far as being a go-getter and a dreamer and singing and dancing. All this stuff is what I’ve always wanted to do. And yes, of course, this is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life, so definitely I’ve been in the shoes of fighting all the no’s and waiting to get the yes and once you get the yes, pressing forward and doing what you can with your opportunity that you got.
In the show, Tiana’s love life – in particular her on again off again relationship with Hakeem – is a big part of the show. Empire isn’t shy about exploring love and sexuality in all of it’s forms and Tiana has been portrayed as bisexual on the show. How did you initially feel about portraying a character that was bisexual? With the season three fall finale now done, it appears that Tiana is heading towards a more traditional relationship with Hakeem, but do you think that Tiana will once again explore less conventional relationships?
SM: When I first got word that that was what was going to happen, I didn’t know how to feel, to be honest. I have no problem with people who are bisexual or transgender or anything like that, but to play a character I just didn’t know—it wasn’t in her breakdown. It came to me later in the script. I just wanted to know where she was coming from as far as an actor. I didn’t want to just be doing it. So my only thing was just to have a talk with the writers and be like okay, why is she this way? What we came down for with the character is that she was going through a period of being in the industry, being in the fast life, and some people get caught up and they start trying things they’ve never done, whether it’s drugs, whether that’s being bisexual, whether that’s whatever and they go on this fast road. But the thing for Tiana was it was just an experiment and she’s like not for me, and that’s what it was. So I had a far greater understanding about it after we talked.
Did you ever get any sort of mail from the LGBT community based on your portrayal?
SM: I don’t think I got any mail, but I definitely get recognition. When I’m out on the street, I definitely have the gay community on my side for sure.
To delve back into your relationship with Empire’s writers and your input and wishes for your character as the show continues, is there anything that you really want for Tiana on the show in the future?
SM: I always wanted Tiana to collaborate with Jussie, and in future episodes she finally gets to. Now I think she’s good. It would be amazing if she had a collaboration with a guest star on the show. That would be really cool, but other than that, I think I’ve reached that now that I got to do a song with Jussie. It was really cool.
What’s your favorite TV show right now other than Empire? What do you like to watch when you’re not working and you’ve got a little time?
SM: I’m really into this show called Insecure. It’s on HBO. It’s hilarious.
That show is incredible and it’s star and creator Issa Rae is amazing and hilarious. Somebody should float the idea of Issa Rae doing a guest spot on Empire. That could be a mic drop moment.
SM: Yes, Issa. Yes, that would be pretty good.
Lastly, who are your big influences? Who inspires Serayah to keep on going as an actress, musical star and overall artist looking to make her mark?
SM: Music career, I would say definitely probably a mix between my mom, Sade and Beyonce or Janet Jackson and Beyonce. I say that because obviously my mom supports everything I do and makes sure that I’m doing the best that I can all the time, even when I don’t want to or when I don’t feel like going anymore. I’d say Janet because she’s an amazing performer, and she just goes in on stage. I’d say Beyonce because she has an amazing career, and she’s such a big businesswoman in the midst of being a celebrity. So those three are my top.