Empire Information

Empire is an American musical drama television series which debuted on Fox on January 7, 2015. Although filmed in Chicago, the show is based in New York and it centers on a hip hop music and entertainment company, Empire Entertainment, and the drama among the members of the founders' family as they fight for control of the company. The show was created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, and stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson.

On January 17, 2015, Empire was renewed for an 18-episode second season, which premiered on September 23, 2015. On January 15, 2016, Empire was renewed for a third season.


Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), a former drug dealer now turned hip hop mogul and CEO of Empire Entertainment, learns he has ALS. His life begins to cave in around him after his past sins come back to haunt him following his diagnosis. Lucious, looking to groom one of his three sons Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) to take over the family business, pits them against each other. Empire also stars Taraji P. Henson as Lucious' ex-wife Cookie Lyon, the mother of his three sons who is released from prison after serving a 17-year sentence.

Cast and characters

Actor Character Count Seasons
1 2
Terrence Howard Lucious Lyon 25 colspan="2"
Taraji P. Henson Cookie Lyon 25 colspan="2"
Jussie Smollett Jamal Lyon 25 colspan="2"
Trai Byers Andre Lyon 25 colspan="2"
Bryshere Y. Gray Hakeem Lyon 25 colspan="2"
Grace Gealey Anika Calhoun 21 colspan="2"
Malik Yoba Vernon Turner 10 colspan="1" colspan="1"
Kaitlin Doubleday Rhonda Lyon 21 colspan="2"
Ta'Rhonda Jones Porsha Taylor 17 colspan="1" colspan="1"
Gabourey Sidibe Becky Williams 17 colspan="1" colspan="1"
Serayah McNeill Tiana Brown 13 colspan="1" colspan="1"

Main cast

  • Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon, a former drug dealer turned hip hop mogul and the founder and long-time CEO of Empire Entertainment, whose life begins to cave in around him after his past sins come back to haunt him when diagnosed with ALS.
  • Taraji P. Henson as Loretha "Cookie" Lyon, Lucious' outspoken ex-wife and mother of his three sons, who served a 17-year stretch in prison for drug dealing. She sees herself as the sacrificial lamb for Empire Entertainment, which she built with Lucious, but then took the fall for when she was arrested for running the drugs that financed Lucious' early career. Upon her return from prison she is determined to bring the Lyon family back together and reclaim her share of Empire Entertainment. In season 2 Cookie leaves Empire and starts her own record label, Lyon Dynasty.
  • Jussie Smollett as Jamal Lyon, the middle son of the Lyon family, a talented, Gay singer-songwriter who despises the corporate aspect of the music industry. He is estranged from his homophobic father who considers him the "black sheep" of the family. Jamal is Cookie's favorite and has a strong relationship with his brother Hakeem.
  • Trai Byers as Andre Lyon, the eldest son of the Lyon family and CFO of Empire Entertainment. He is Wharton educated, power hungry and suffers from bipolar disorder. He is married to his college sweetheart, Rhonda. He plans to run Empire, but is in a battle for the head chair with his younger brothers.
  • Bryshere Y. Gray as Hakeem Lyon, the fame-obsessed youngest son and Lucious' favorite child, who is a hip hop star on the rise. Hakeem starts to find feelings for his mother, Cookie, and has a great relationship with Jamal. He has relationships with Tiana, Camilla, Anika, Valentina, Laura and Abbie.
  • Grace Gealey as Anika Calhoun. She starts out as ambitious head of Empire Entertainment A&R and becomes engaged to Lucious, but they separate again. Cookie and Anika share an extreme dislike for one another, with Cookie referring to Anika as the derisive nickname "Boo Boo Kitty".
  • Malik Yoba as Vernon Turner, Lucious's longtime friend and business partner, and chairman of Empire Entertainment.
  • Kaitlin Doubleday as Rhonda Lyon, Andre's wife.
  • Ta'Rhonda Jones as Porsha Taylor (season 2, recurring: season 1), Cookie's assistant
  • Gabourey Sidibe as Becky Williams (season 2, recurring: season 1), executive assistant to Lucious at Empire Entertainment.
  • Serayah McNeill as Tiana Brown (season 2, recurring: season 1), an artist at Empire Entertainment who becomes Hakeem's girlfriend for some time. In season 2 she leaves Empire for Lyon Dynasty.

Recurring cast

  • Shanesia Davis as Mrs. Calhoun, Anika Calhoun's mother
  • Naomi Campbell as Camilla Marks, a fashion designer and who becomes Hakeem's lover, but then leaves him, later on she is announced as the wife of Mimi in season 2.
  • Eka Darville as Ryan Morgan, a documentary filmmaker who becomes Jamal's temporary boyfriend during season 1.
  • Rafael de La Fuente as Michael Sanchez, Jamal's boyfriend. They separate in season 1, but reunited sometime before the premiere of season 2.
  • Nealla Gordon as Agent Harlow Carter, an FBI agent working with Cookie. (season 1)
  • Damon Gupton as Detective Calvin Walker, a police detective investigating the murder of Bunkie. (season 1)
  • Jennifer Hudson as Michelle White, a music therapist and gospel singer. (season 1)
  • Courtney Love as Elle Dallas, a multi-platinum rockstar and drug dealer and Empire Entertainment royal, who battles with drug addiction. She is in dire need of a comeback. (season 1)
  • Derek Luke as Malcolm DeVeaux, head of security at Empire Entertainment. He becomes Cookie's boyfriend in season 1 and then quits his job.
  • Antoine McKay as Marcus "Bunkie" Williams, Cookie's cousin who was killed by Lucious. (season 1)
  • Judd Nelson as Billy Baretti, owner of Creedmoor Entertainment and Lucious's rival who oversaw the early years of Lucious's music career.
  • Tasha Smith as Carol Holloway, Cookie's younger sister from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a recovering drug addict.
  • Tyra Ferrell as Roxanne Ford, a prosecutor. (Season 2)
  • Marisa Tomei as Mimi Whiteman, a Forbes billionaire, venture capitalist, and lesbian who becomes involved in the Lyon family drama. (season 2)
  • AzMarie Livingston as Chicken, Hakeem's friend and apparent DJ.
  • Kelly Rowland (in flashbacks) as Leah Walker, the deceased mother of Dwight Walker (Lucious' real name). She suffered from bipolar disorder, and died when Lucious was nine years old.
  • Adam Rodrguez as Laz Delgado, a concert promoter and love interest for Cookie Lyon. (season 2)
  • Bre-Z as Freda Gatz, a female rapper and Lucious's new project, making her a rival of Hakeem. (season 2)
  • Jamila Velazquez as Laura Calleros, the lead singer of Hakeem's girl group, Mirage Trois. (season 2)
  • Chris Bridges as Officer McKnight, Lucious' prison guard

Guest stars

As character:

  • Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Dwayne "Puma" Robinson, a songwriter and old associate of Lucious and Cookie. (Season 1)
  • Raven-Symon as Olivia Lyon, Jamal's ex-wife and the mother of a young girl who was believed to be fathered by him. (season 1)
  • DeRay Davis as Jermel, a cousin of Cookie who is paid to kill a former associate of the family. (season 1-2)
  • Estelle as Delphine, a musician Empire Entertainment tries to sign. (Season 1)
  • V. Bozeman as Veronica, an artist formerly signed to Empire Entertainment (season 1-2)
  • Mary J. Blige as Angie, a woman from Lucious's past. (season 1)
  • Petey Pablo as Clyde, prison-mate of Lucious (season 2)
  • Becky G as Valentina Galindo, a singer, and a former fling of Hakeem (season 2)
  • Alicia Keys as Skye Summers, a pop singer and fling of Jamal Lyon's (season 2)
  • Vivica A. Fox as Candace Holloway, Cookie's well-behaved but snobby and judgmental older sister. She lives in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Danny (who is Caucasian), and their two children, Brianna and Franklin. (season 2)
  • Da Brat as Jezzy, one of Cookie's prison mates. (season 2)
  • Rosie O'Donnell as Pepper O'Leary, Cookie's former cellmate for over a decade. (season 2)
  • Xzibit as Leslie 'Shyne' Johnson, described as "100 percent wolf and 100 percent gangsta", he is a rival of Lucious Lyon's. (Season 2)
As self:


See List of Empire episodes for more information


Howard, Henson and Sidibe filmed the pilot episode in Chicago in March 2014. On May 6, 2014, Fox picked up Empire as a series order for its 2014-15 television schedule. On May 12, 2014, Fox announced that Empire would air as a midseason replacement rather than as a part of the fall schedule. On November 19, it was confirmed that the pilot episode would premiere on January 7, 2015, following the premiere of season 14 of American Idol.

The executive producers are Brian Grazer, Daniels, Strong and Francie Calfo. The show is written by Strong; Daniels, who has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, made his television directorial debut with the show. According to Strong, the show is based in part on William Shakespeare's King Lear and James Goldman's The Lion in Winter; Daniels also acknowledged strong influence from the ABC prime-time soap opera Dynasty. Ilene Chaiken later joined the series as showrunner.


Howard was cast in the lead on February 19, 2014. Henson was named as the female lead on February 26, and Jussie Smollett was announced in a starring role. Howard and Henson previously starred together as love interests in the film Hustle & Flow, and starred in the 2005 film Four Brothers. On March 10, 2014, Sidibe, who had previously worked with Daniels in Precious, was cast in a recurring role as Becky, Lucious' assistant. Trai Byers and Grace Gealey were announced in regular roles, while Bryshere Y. Gray and Malik Yoba were announced in starring roles. Courtney Love was added to the cast on October 23. Naomi Campbell was announced in a recurring role on September 29. On June 2, 2015, it was announced Adam Rodriguez would join the cast in a recurring role in season 2 portraying Laz Delgado, a potential love interest for Cookie.


After finding his lead actors, Lee Daniels set out to find a producer to craft the music for the series. Because he felt his own musical tastes and desires would be a little too dated for the show, Daniels consulted with people he thought could give him a little more insight, his children. At the urging of his son and daughter, Daniels contacted super producer Timothy "Timbaland" Mosley, known for scoring hits with some of pop's biggest artists including Missy Elliott, Madonna, Brandy, Destiny's Child, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Nelly Furtado, Ginuwine and Aaliyah.

Timbaland, co-songwriter/producer Jim Beanz, and a team of other musical collaborators take their cues from the writing team, which gives them an idea of where the plot is headed, and craft songs to fit those themes. However, the musical aspect of the series is very reality based, unlike Fox's last musical series, Glee, performances would come with the organic development of the characters as artists, much like the performances featured in the ABC prime-time country musical drama Nashville. Daniels said: "The story drives the music, the music doesn't drive the story". Fox's senior VP of TV Music Geoff Bywayer said to expect the fictional musical world to collide with the real musical world; "We want to make the world of 'Empire' almost feel like a real music-breathing entity." While the show will also use outside writers, Timbaland's team gets the first chance to craft original music for the series. Terrence Howard himself is credited with writing the song "What The DJ Spins", which is said in Episode 2 to have been instrumental in launching his character's career.

Any licensed songs and composer Fil Eisler's score are added after the episodes are filmed. The pilot itself consists of 12 songs. Columbia Records will release weekly soundtracks of Empire on the iTunes Store, the same strategy used with Glee. In May 2015, Fox announced that Ne-Yo and J.R. Rotem would write music for the show's second season, joining Timbaland.

On 8 September 2015, Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi from Pentatonix arranged a medley of songs from the first season of Empire and posted it on their shared YouTube comedy/music channel, Superfruit. The video was sponsored by the Fox Broadcasting Company.


Columbia Records released the official soundtrack of the season on March 10, 2015. The soundtrack consists of 11 songs and the deluxe version consists of 18 songs, all performed on the show. As of October 2015, the album has sold 439,000 total copies in the United States.

Soundtrack Release date Format(s) Label Edition(s)
Season 1 10 March 2015 Columbia
Season 2 (Vol. 1) 20 November 2015
Season 2 (Vol. 2) 29 April 2016


Empire was set to premiere in Australia on February 19, 2015 on Network Ten, however a week out from this date it was dumped from the schedule and pushed back. It ultimately premiered on March 1, 2015, to a disappointing 377,000 total viewers, although it fared better with viewers in younger demographics. The second season will be broadcast on Eleven from September 29, 2015. In Canada, the series was simulcast on Omni Television (Omni 2). The fourth episode and, later, the season finale would also air on Citytv, a sibling broadcast network. Sibling cable network, FX, would also air a marathon of the show on March 14 and 15, 2015. The show moved to City starting in the 2015-16 season. However, the show was dropped from City's prime-time lineup after the first half of the second season due to low ratings. Future new episodes of the show will be available on Shomi within 24 hours of their U.S. broadcast.

Empire is broadcasting in the UK on E4 with the first episode airing on April 28, 2015. The series premiered in India on STAR World Premiere HD on April 24, 2015 (only in high-definition). Later, on July 14, 2015, Empire also premiered on FX India (both in standard and high definition) with the Season 1 finale airing on July 29, 2015. Empire premiered on June 24, 2015 in Germany on Pro Sieben, with the Pilot reaching 930,000 viewers. In Finland, the show premiered on Sub on December 2, 2015. In South Africa, the show premiered on e.tv on February 3, 2016.


Season ratings

Season Time slot (ET) Episodes Premiered Ended TV Season Rank Viewers
(in millions)
Rank (18-49) 18-49 rating
Date Premiere viewers
(in millions)
Date Finale viewers
(in millions)

Wednesday 8:00 pm (episode 11)
January 7, 2015
March 18, 2015
17.62 2014-15 #5 17.33 #2 7.1
Wednesday 9:00 pm
September 23, 2015
16.18 May 18 2016 TBD 2015-16 TBD TBD TBD TBD

Critical reception

Metacritic ratings per season
Empire has received positive reviews from critics. The praise has gone towards the cast, particularly Howard and Henson. On Rotten Tomatoes, the first season has a rating of 80%, based on 48 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though heavy on melodrama, Empire elevates the nighttime soap with its top-notch cast, musical entertainment, and engrossing plots." On Metacritic the show has a score of 72 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". For the second season, it built up more acclaim from critics, praising the performances of Henson and Howard, the character development, plot development, and the show's self-awareness for being a soap opera. On Rotten Tomatoes, the second season has a 95% "Certified Fresh" with an average rating of 7.8/10 from critics and a score of 77 from Metacritic, indicating "generally positive reviews".

Dave Wiegand stated in The Seattle Times that "Almost nothing about Empire, created by Lee Daniels (The Butler), feels original, but after a few minutes, you will stop caring". 50 Cent stated via Twitter that he feels that Empire is being marketed by FOX in a way that resembles the marketing for the 2014 Starz series that he produces called Power. Michael Logan of TV Guide described Empire as a "sudsy retooling of King Lear with hip hop as the backdrop and praised Henson for her portrayal of the character Cookie.

The show's premiere ranked as Fox's highest-rated debut in three years. Viewership has increased continuously; Empire is the first primetime broadcast series in at least 23 years to have its viewership increase week to week for its first five episodes. The show continues to increase its viewership with further episodes. Episodes of the show have also been heavily watched on Video on Demand and other streaming services. As of its first season finale, Empire has now surpassed The Big Bang Theory as the highest rated scripted program in the 2014-2015 television season. The first season finale is also the highest rated debut season finale since May 2005, when Grey's Anatomy ended its first season. Empire's season one finale grew 82 percent from its series premiere, making it the show that has grown the most over the course of its first season since Men in Trees during the 2006-2007 season.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee Result ref
2015 American Film Institute Top 10 TV Shows 'Empire'
BET Award Best Actor Terrence Howard
Jussie Smollett
Best Actress Taraji P. Henson
Critics' Choice Television Award Best Drama Series Empire
Best Actress in a Drama Series Taraji P. Henson
Most Bingeworthy Show Empire
People's Choice Award Favorite Network TV Drama Empire
Favorite Dramatic TV Actor Terrence Howard
Favorite Dramatic TV Actress Taraji P. Henson
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Taraji P. Henson
Outstanding Costumes for a Contemporary Series, Limited Series or Movie Eileen McCahill and Paolo Nieddu
Rita D. McGhee and Sukari McGill
("The Lyon's Roar")
Teen Choice Award Choice TV Show: Drama Empire
Choice TV Actor: Drama Terrence Howard
Jussie Smollett
Choice TV Actress: Drama Taraji P. Henson
Choice TV: Breakout Show Empire
Choice TV: Breakout Star Bryshere Y. Gray
Jussie Smollett
Choice TV: Scene Stealer Trai Byers
Choice TV: Villain Terrence Howard
Choice TV: Chemistry Trai Byers, Bryshere Y. Gray, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard & Jussie Smollett
Choice Music: Song from a Movie or TV Show "You're So Beautiful" - Empire Cast feat. Jussie Smollett & Bryshere Y. Gray
Television Critics Association Award Program of the Year Empire
Outstanding Achievement in Drama Empire
Outstanding New Program Empire
Individual Achievement in Drama Taraji P. Henson
Hollywood Music in Media Awards Original Score - TV Show / Digital Series Empire
Song - TV Show/Digital Series "Good Enough"
Outstanding Music Supervision - Television "Empire"
Soundtrack Album "Empire Original Soundtrack From Season 1"
2016 Grammy Award Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media Empire: Original Soundtrack from Season 1
Golden Globe Awards Best Television Series - Drama Empire
Best Actress - Television Series Drama Taraji P. Henson
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Drama Series Empire
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series Terrence Howard
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series Taraji P. Henson
Outstanding Album Empire: Original Soundtrack from Season 1
Outstanding Song - Contemporary "Conqueror" Empire Cast
Outstanding Duo, Group or Collaboration
Critics Choice Television Award Best Drama Series Empire
Best Actress in a Drama Series Taraji P. Henson
Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series Marisa Tomei
Most Bingeworthy Show Empire
Costume Designers Guild Outstanding Contemporary Television Series Rita McGhee

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