Serayah McNeill Knew ‘Empire’ Was Going To Be A Hit
You probably know her as sassy, sexy Tiana Brown—the star of Fox’s hit show Empire.
Or maybe you recognize her as Dilemma, one of the six badass girls who starred in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” music video.
But what you probably don’t know is that on the real, she’s just Serayah—a chill, down-to-earth 20-year-old whose whole career seemed to blow up instantaneously last year.
We had the chance to interview Serayah McNeill, and she’s even more dope than the character she plays on TV. We spoke about everything from work husbands, to her taste in music, to her favorite beauty splurges. She revealed that Jussie Smollett is as much of a sweetheart as we’d hope, and she gave us the secrets to her washboard abs.
Read the full interview below.
When you first read the script for Empire, did you know the show was going to be a hit?
I had a feeling. I didn’t know it was going to do as great as it did, but I had a feeling, because Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard were part of it.
Was Tiana the role you auditioned for and originally wanted to play, or did you see yourself as another character?
Tiana was the only role I auditioned for.
So many celebrities have made appearances on the show. Who did you totally fangirl over?
I fangirled over Jennifer Hudson, Ne-Yo (of course), and Alicia Keys. I’m so mad I didn’t get to see Kelly Rowland when she was on the show, but I met her recently, and she is so sweet and so beautiful.
It’s really cool that the show explores male and female sexuality, and in Season 1, it was revealed that Tiana was bisexual. What does it mean to you to play a bisexual character on such a popular show?
I think it’s dynamic, and the show gives a lot of depth into gay and lesbian rights and how people view that in the perspective of society.
Empire is giving depth to the hip-hop community in ways that we have not seen in the past. What do you think is the most empowering aspect of the show for the African American community?
I think seeing the not-so-glamorous background and the criminal background, and that you can still rise above it and be who you want. Empire is, in its own way, at the forefront of the movement and really showing that you can rise above whatever background you came from.
Were you a fan of hip-hop before the show?
Yeah, of course.
Who is your favorite hip-hop artist?
My favorite artist would have to be Kendrick Lamar.
What is your favorite Kendrick song?
It’s a tough one. His past album is my favorite. Every song is a story, and it’s spoken very well.
Do you have a “work husband” on the show?
Definitely Jussie [Smollett]. He is always so delightful to be around, and he always comes to my rehearsals to support me.
What has it been like having access to this crazy, extravagant wardrobe, and is Tiana’s style at all like your own?
Tiana’s a lot more promiscuous style-wise than I would be. I like looser fitting clothes. It’s really cool to have so many designers working with us; it’s like we get to play dress-up.
Is there anything you’ve taken away from Tiana’s beauty routine and incorporated into your own look?
Definitely the wand curls. They do that a lot to my hair, and now I do it sometimes because I really like the way it looks.
Who is your style icon?
My style icons have to be Rihanna and Gwen Stefani.
Who is your favorite Spice Girl?
I’ve always been in love with Posh. Everything about her is so intriguing.
Are you going to Coachella? Who are you excited to see there?
Yes. It’s going to be my first time there, and I can’t wait to see everyone. I’m just excited to be a part of it.
You have some insane abs. How do you keep them so tight? Have you always loved working out?
I played basketball and sports in high school, so I’ve always been very sporty and active. When I’m trying to slim down, I cut out carbs—the hardest thing to do. Right now, I’m more of a gym girl, and I love hitting Pilates and yoga classes when I can.
Vintage Top, Material Girl Skirt, Virgo Downtown Belt, and Levi’s Jacket
Photography by Prince + Jacob
Styled by Hoza Rodriguez
Hair by Tai Phillips