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Queen Latifah Lands Lead Role in Lee Daniels’ Fox Music Pilot

Queen Latifah has landed a lead role in Lee Daniels’ untitled music project at Fox, which was formerly titled “Star,” Variety has learned. Three more regulars — all relative newcomers — have also been cast.

The Untitled Lee Daniels Music Pilot goes into production this month in Atlanta, and while the potential series has only been ordered to pilot at this point, Queen Latifah’s star power, combined with Daniels’ “Empire” track record at Fox, makes the project a strong contender for the 2016-17 television season.

The pilot revolves around three young women, who form a girl group with hopes of making it big in the music industry. The project has been described in the vein of “Dreamgirls,” while incorporating the manufacturing of modern-day girl groups, showcasing the allure and heartache of the cut-throat music scene, and exploring cultural themes from a new perspective.

Queen Latifah will anchor the young cast, playing Carlotta, the owner of an Atlanta beauty salon who has an amazing voice and becomes a surrogate mother to the three girls in the group, even though she doesn’t approve of their musical dreams.

Following a nationwide casting call, actress and singers Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny and Brittany O’Grady have been cast as the leading girl group members.

Demorest (“Dallas,” “The Middle”), from Detroit, has landed the role of Star, the tough 18-year-old who spent her childhood in and out of foster homes after the death of her mother, and who will do anything to become the star she was named to be; Destiny (“Low Winter Sun”), also from Detroit, has been cast as Alexandra, the wealthy 20-year-old who grew up on New York’s Upper East Side, but who, for years, has tried to put her privileged world behind her, so she can make real, authentic music; and O’Grady (“The Messengers”), from Washington, DC, will play Simone, Star’s younger sister who dreams of the day Star will return to rescue her from the abusive foster home in which she was placed five years before.

In addition to the lead trio, TMZ reports that transgender model Amiyah Scott — who was in contention to be a “Real Housewives of Atlanta” cast member — has also joined the project, though the site incorrectly reported the pilot is an “Empire” spinoff. Fox declined to comment on Scott’s character details, but insiders confirm to Variety that she has been cast. When the casting call was first released, the pilot called for talent to play a role specifically tailored to a transgender actress.

Hailing from the “Empire” co-creator, Daniels’ untitled project is not an “Empire” spinoff or directly related to the hit Fox series, despite conflicting reports. But, similarly to “Empire,” the Queen Latifah-starrer is a primetime soap opera set in the world of music, and Fox boss Dana Walden hasn’t ruled out crossover episodes, should it go to series. “It is modern-day music music in Atlanta and ‘Empire’ is modern-day music business in New York. It’s not inconceivable that the two shows can cross,” Walden said when the pilot was announced. However, while not officially in development, Daniels has discussed the possibility of a separate “Empire” spinoff, and has thrown around the idea of a show revolving around young Cookie’s life, following the early days of the character made famous by Taraji P. Henson.

Recently, “Empire” showrunner Ilene Chaiken told Variety that there is no spinoff in the works, but she did allude to the possibility brought up by Daniels, saying, “In our world, there may well be storylines and characters that we can spin off, but that’s not what we are focused on right now, and nothing official or concrete is happening with regards to it.”

Produced by 20th Century Fox Television, the untitled pilot is the first to emerge from Daniels’ overall multi-year deal with the studio. Daniels will write, direct and exec produce the pilot, while co-creator Tom Donaghy will also serve as writer and exec producer. Pamela Oas Williams (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”) and Effie Brown (“Dear White People”) are also exec producers.

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