It was a big day for Fox’s breakout hit “Empire” on Friday. Hours before the series’ latest For Your Consideration event, the show’s writers announced its sophomore season premiere date. Held at The Grove, the panel included a Q&A and a live concert featuring musical numbers from the series.
“On the count of three, I want ya’ll to scream if you’re ready for season two,” encouraged rapper-actor Bryshere “Yazz” Gray. “One… two… three.”
Needless to say, the crowd went wild.
Gray, who plays Hakeem Lyon, told Variety that the cast of the ratings juggernaut is hungry to come back for a second round.
“It’s not time to play around. We got expectations, we got fans that want good drama,” said Gray.
The hip-hopera will differ from last season in some aspects — if not its star-studded guest cast — since the show is expanding to 18 episodes and airing in two halves across the 2015-2016 season. Co-creator Danny Strong said that the new formula would add a constructive element to the show’s writers’ room.
“I’m glad we’re splitting it up because it makes it a little more manageable for us to tell the story by dividing it up in two halves. So it’s like we’re building to a conclusion in the first half and then another one in the second half,” Strong explained. The theme for season two will be “warring kingdoms,” the panelists teased.
Expectations for the show’s original songs will be sky-high following season one’s Billboard-topping soundtrack, with Ne-Yo joining Timbaland on songwriting duties for season two.
“It’s grinding, its grueling, its tough for the musicians, but magic happens,” said co-creator Lee Daniels. “We started to started out to make a statement: that we defined music.”
Preceding the live concert, moderator Kristin Dos Santos noted, “never in the sixty five-year history of the Academy has a predominantly black cast been nominated for Best Drama Series.” Could “Empire” buck that trend?
Breakout lead Taraji P. Henson noted that the show’s diversity helps differentiate it from primetime soaps that came before, such as “Dallas” and “Dynasty,” when diving into intense family drama.
“It’s challenging, thought-provocative material and people are going to watch because it makes you uncomfortable,” she told. “Two men kissing, but you like that dude. I hear [black] straight guys struggle with that all the time.”
Henson’s onscreen son, Jussie Smollett, agreed.
“There’s no way in hell that we would be able to have a show that deals with popular culture and not with the things that are going on in the nation right now,” he said. “That would be unrealistic, a fantasy.”
The only question lingering is whether “Empire’s” hot streak can extend through Emmy season. If the crowd’s reaction at the FYC event was any indication, Lucious Lyon’s “Empire” will endure for a long time to come.