‘Empire’ Star Serayah Is Here To Stay, And Her Music Seals The Deal
Many may recognize Serayah McNeill as the feisty music superstar Tiana Brown from the hit FOX series Empire. The cast and crew of the Lee Daniels-created show is getting ready to shoot Season Five after a cliffhanger ended Season Four. Although Serayah is “super blessed” to still be on the show, she’s ready to break away from her character in order to take the world by storm by being her very own, talented self, converting fans one at a time.
The 23-year-old Cali native vibrantly strutted into the VIBE HQ on an early Tuesday morning (Jul. 10), bright-eyed and bushy-tailed despite the 8:15 a.m. call time. Her full ensemble is enviable, from her braided, honey-blonde head to her high heels. The multihyphenate’s first major acting role was landing the gig on Empire, but singing and dancing have been part of Serayah’s life since she was young. Outside of the show, she’s been releasing R&B music on her own accord, steadily converting Empire fans into Serayah supporters with songs like the laid-back “Going Through The Motions” and the melodic “Driving Me” featuring Jazze Pha.
“People are now just getting used to my music and don’t really know all of my songs like that, so [the best thing about performing] is seeing their reaction to something they don’t know,” she says, recalling her first performance at the BET Experience this past June. “Oh they’re dancing, they’re into it. By the second hook, they’re singing it. I think that’s the most beautiful thing.”
Her latest, “So Good,” was released on June 29 and is turn-up ready. The video, shot by L.A. director Kyle Dijamco and inspired by Mya’s “Love Like Whoa,” is grown and sexy. It was released July 13, and features the musician bringing fire and ferocity to various solo dance routines, with colorful backgrounds and eye-popping fashion to boot. Serayah says it is different from her past ditties due to the overall tempo, feel and subject matter.
“The other records I’ve put out, they’re more mid-tempo to slower songs, talking about relationships and things like that,” she says. “Whereas this song, it’s more of a getting-ready-to-go-out type of song. It’s giving you that summer vibe.” Serayah hopes to have her debut project available by fall of this year. She’s leaning towards mid- to up-tempo tracks and also juggling with the idea of collaborating with other artists.
“I’d love to have a couple of features, but I’m not a feature-crazy person,” she explains. “I want people to know me and know my music first, at least. It’s a new season for me and I definitely feel like I’m starting fresh, so my music’s definitely gonna reflect that.”
So far, doing it on her own has done the trick. Her tunes were heard on MTV’s TRL and Nick Cannon’s Wild’n Out, and “Driving Me” was featured on the Black-ish spinoff, Grown-ish. The budding support for her singing career outside of the Empire sphere fills the musical ingenue with pride.
“It feels amazing,” she says, grinning. “It’s a great start and, I keep saying this, but I’m so appreciative that people are open-minded to me being my own artist. I am on a show that got huge, and people don’t know me from anything else. I’m ‘Tiana.’ Some people can’t let go of the character. So it’s really relieving to be like, okay, they actually wanna mess with me outside of that.” Despite working on cultivating a career that’s simply Serayah, she’s bringing a bit of the Tiana Brown stage presence with her along on the way. As evident by her latest music video and a dance session after our interview, the girl has got some moves.
Television shows don’t last forever, and show business is unpredictable. As a result, Serayah acutely aware of the need to keep grinding once Empire comes to an end. Not only does she hope to continue prospering through her music, but she also aims to appear in more films. She appeared in Netflix’s Burning Sands with Trevor Jackson and Trevante Rhodes in 2017, and starred in 2016’s Lucky Girl with LeToya Luckett and Columbus Short.
“With [Empire] being so successful, I already put the pressure on myself to do me outside of the show,” she explained. “I have faith. That’s what I’m focusing on now, getting prepared for those moments I can grab and have after the show.” In that respect, Serayah says that she and her character Tiana are very similar. Tiana also moves with career goals in mind, and they’re both hungry to be successful and the best they can be.
How will Serayah continue to stand out from the pack? Other than her standout fashion and hair choices and commitment to keeping it real at all times, the beauty’s dedication to growing her craft should prove to be helpful in the long run. She’s steadily auditioning, putting in work in acting classes, and perfecting her musical performances.
“This summer has just been one of those summers where I’ve just invested in my craft, which is important for the reasons that we’re saying,” she continues. “I just want to be prepared for that opportunity.”