Oftentimes in Hollywood the line between reality and fiction gets blurred in the most exciting ways. Such is the story with EMPIRE star, Serayah. Not only does the 23-year-old star portray R&B singer, Tiana Brown, on the hit FOX series, but now she’s a bonafide R&B star in real life with her new single and music video “So Good”. BELLO was thrilled to catch up with Serayah in Chicago where she had recently started filming season five of EMPIRE.

“It means a lot to me to focus on my music during my EMPIRE hiatus,” Serayah told us. “When I was creating ‘So Good’ it was just a really great vibe in the studio. There was me and a couple of writers (Akazi and Wade), and the producer Joe Black, and we were just vibing and having fun.” She adds, “We were just having a great time, and that’s what I wanted the video to reflect. I wanted the song to be something people could enjoy when they’re getting ready to go out and have fun with their friends.”

With her own life now so closely mirroring the career of her character on EMPIRE, our chicken-and-the-egg curiosity was piqued: did Serayah the performing artist give rise to Tiana, or did Tiana the performing artist give rise to Serayah? “I definitely made Tiana happen in my own way,” she says. “For example, my character wasn’t even supposed to dance in the first season, but for the song ‘Keep It Moving’ I remember being in my hotel room and I made up some moves and the choreographer liked it and kept it. I definitely brought that to Tiana. They didn’t know I could dance, and they were blown away. They’ve kept me dancing ever since.”

Currently in the early part of shooting season five of EMPIRE in Chicago, we asked Serayah, on a scale of 1-10, how accurate the show’s representation of the hip hop entertainment industry is to that in real life. “I would say a 6/10. I feel like we take storylines that have been pulled from real life, whether it be from the characters or the celebrity gossip, but we definitely accentuate the drama. If it didn’t have at least some element of truth to the portrayal of the industry I don’t think it would be as entertaining to watch.”

With season five now filming, we wondered what new ground Serayah would love to explore in Tiana’s life and soul if she was given carte blanche in the writing room. “I’ve always wanted to explore Tiana’s back story and see more intimate moments with her,” Serayah tells us. “We always see her blowing up and getting mad, but we don’t really know where it’s coming from. Other characters get to explore that ground, so I feel like we could do the same for Tiana so we could have a better understanding of her journey.”

As with any actor whose been immersed in their character’s journey for years, that character can have a huge impact in shaping an actor’s own personal life and development. We asked Serayah how Tiana Brown has influenced her own growth, and what she admires most about Tiana. “Definitely her confidence. Right from the gate Tiana has consistently exuded confidence, and it was something that was originally uncomfortable for me in the beginning — from the clothes that she would wear, to the dances she would dance, to the way she was socially, and with her boyfriends and girlfriends. Playing Tiana really helped take me out of my comfort zone, and that’s where the real magic happens.” Serayah adds, “Until you’re challenged, you don’t really know if you can go there. So when you’re forced to reach for it and just go, you discover new potential within yourself.”
Forcing herself out of her comfort zone has become a way of life for Serayah over the past five years. “For example,” she says, “when I was filming my video for ‘So Good’ I was doing moves and splits that I would never do normally, and once I tapped into it it just started coming naturally. It often happens on set as well, such as today we’re filming a scene and the choreographers are teaching me flamenco. It’s a style I’ve never done, but now I’m doing it. I’m constantly learning new things on EMPIRE.”

Having spent so many years filming in Chicago and working up an appetite with all those countless hours of hard work, Serayah has had plenty of time to discover her own set of Windy City favorite restaurants. “I really like Chicago Cut, an upscale steakhouse. It just opened and it’s getting a big reputation, which it totally deserves — it’s so good! I also love Doc B’s, it’s more of a sports bar, and they have amazing ribs. And Harold’s Chicken for sure.”

Serayah is well aware that ‘all work and no play’ is not a good life rule, so she makes sure to get the most that Chicago has to offer. “I’m going to make sure to see plenty of Chicago events. I’m going to Lollapalooza, which I’m excited about. Chicago has so many things to do so I want to do as much as I can before it gets cold!”
And when it comes to the years ahead, we were curious where Serayah sees herself in ten years. “I see myself headlining tours, selling out shows, and being the lead in big budget films. Building my own empire, basically!”

Photography  ARTHUR GALVAO | Creative Direction STEPHANE MARQUET

Production Maison Privée x BELLO Media Group

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