Jussie Smollett Talks ‘Empire’ Ratings, Mariah Carey

NEW YORK (AP) — Cookie, the artist? Possibly.

Taraji P. Henson, who plays the matriarch on the hit series “Empire,” is musically gifted, according to one of her co-stars.

“She sings her (butt) off. People don’t know that. She’s so incredible. She has a beautiful voice,” said Jussie Smollett, who plays Cookie’s son, Jamal Lyon, on the show. “She’s a trained theater actress, so she knows … musical theater and all of that. She has a beautiful voice.”

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Smollett talks about working with Henson, Terrence Howard, Mariah Carey and more on “Empire,” which airs at 9 p.m. EST Wednesdays on Fox.

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AP: So will we get to see Cookie sing on the show?

Smollett: I don’t know if she’s going to sing on the show, but we’ve being trying to get her to sing on the show. She’s just scared to go in the damn studio. I’m like, ‘Go into the studio and record something. You have a great voice.’

AP: Have you filmed with Mariah Carey yet?

Smollett: Not yet. You know, me and Mariah go back like babies and pacifiers. Mariah is coming; I just don’t know when. I know nothing like that …I just know that as a fact I will be working with her soon, I just don’t know if it’s going to be ‘Empire’ or a song. Who knows?

AP: Maybe a tour?

Smollett: I mean I would open for Mariah in a freakin’ heartbeat. Heartbeat.

AP: Have you guys thought about doing an ‘Empire’ tour like ‘Glee’ and other shows?

Smollett: If a tour happened, it would have to be so next-level. It would have to be as dope as ‘Empire.’ …In the second week of December, Taraji, Yazz (Bryshere Gray) and I are doing a USO tour in Japan and we’ll be performing and meeting all of the troops and their families during the holidays.

AP: What has it been like working with Taraji, Terrence and the others on the set?

Smollett: Taraji is not a joke. She’s the real deal, and I love the fact that she takes her craft so seriously yet she doesn’t take herself seriously. … (Terrence) is this deep, slightly misunderstood person … from Planet Terrence, but we should all be so lucky to sit on Planet Terrence every once in a while and have a conversation with that man because he’s brilliant.

There’s such a respect that we have for each other … it’s never an ego thing … when I tell you there’s not one bit of ego on that set, it’s the honest to God truth — which is also why we laugh when they say about like feuds on set, which is further from the truth.

AP: The show’s ratings are strong but slightly down. What do you think about that?

Smollett: First of all I don’t think about the numbers, I don’t look at that. I’m like, ‘Are we No. 1?’ Cool. And keep it moving. That’s not my job to get all wrapped up in that. I’m aware of it — don’t get me wrong, but it’s kind of like … (Michael Jackson’s) ‘Thriller’ vs. ‘Bad’ …That was such a huge album, but so was the other one.

AP: The show explores the characters’ musical journey — but what’s been your musical journey in real life?

Smollett: I’ve been in talks with labels before, and I’ve never been signed. I’ve walked away from deals before and then sat back and regretted walking away from those deals, but now I don’t regret walking away from them at all. I’ve been a performing artist since I was a kid …I was just pay-to-play — pay-to-play at the Viper Room, at the House of Blues and Crash Mansion here in New York City. It was just about building that fan base so it allowed me to not work a 10 to 6 and be my own boss, and now I’m here on ‘Empire.’ Seven auditions later, a whole bunch of bills, a whole bunch of bill collectors, and I’m here.

AP: You signed a deal with Columbia Records. Are you writing and recording your album?

Smollett: I’m concentrated on ‘Empire’s’ music, Jamal’s music, although they obviously bleed together because some of Jamal’s songs were my songs recorded before I even auditioned for ‘Empire’ or knew that ‘Empire’ was happening. ..It’s definitely coming — sometime next year.

AP: Your character filmed a Pepsi commercial to showcase his star power in the music industry, which will debut during the Dec. 2 mid-season finale. What was that like?

Smollett: It’s unbelievable. …We had to explain and show this meteoric rise that Jamal is starting to have … you can say a line in the script that ‘my album was No. 1,’ but as a viewer can you feel that? We could even make up a fake award and act like he won a Grammy, but can you feel that?

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(Photo Source: AP)