Empire closed out Fox’s day on the Television Critics’ Association press tour in Beverly Hills, and the wait was well worth it.
The show’s creator Lee Daniels, executive producers Brian Grazer and Ilene Chaiken, and star and Emmy nominee Taraji P. Henson took the stage to field questions from critics and show new footage from next season. Daniels also revealed details about his new music-set drama series, Star, but mostly the group addressed the first season’s walloping success and some of the big points coming up in season two.
Here were the moments that stopped the show:
1. It seems as if there’s no end to the list of stars heading to Empire in its second season—Pitbull was announced earlier Thursday, and Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, and Chris Rock are also on the way—but Daniels warned that the A-list bandwagon may have to slow down for its own sake, even before season two premieres. “I found that, the more celebrities that I put on this show, the more it takes away from the family,” Daniels told the crowd. “The family is the most important to me, so if we can bedazzle you with a little Denzel, a little Oprah, that’s okay…but I think I got to stick to the family. Family is what the story’s about.” (Though to be clear, Oprah and Denzel are not booked to appear on the show—yet).
2. “Bye, Felicia!” — Daniels’ response when asked to comment on a copyright infringement lawsuit reportedly facing the show.
3. Henson, who charmed critics and kept things light on the panel with frequent jokes and an infectious laugh, offered a sweet anecdote about her off-screen bonding with the actors who play her sons. “Especially with my boys, my babies, they’re so sweet, my Jussie and my Yazz,” said Henson, adding that her third onscreen son, Trai Byers, is more mature and reserved. “I just had a conversation with Yazz the other day about saving his money. Not believing your own hype. I’m constantly checking in with them. I remember last season, they used to play my bodyguard when we would go to Target. I’d be tickled, like, who’s gonna be your bodyguard next season? And they’d look at me like, huh? And now it’s next season and I’m like, yeah, you trying to go to Target now!”
4. Real-world topics in the music industry found their way into the show last year, and you can expect to see this summer’s big stories—like the Drake vs. Meek Mill feud, or the big commotion about Spotify—to be well-represented in season two. Showrunner Chaiken maintained that, more often than not, the show’s writers have predicted those music stories popping in the news. “Every one of those stories, we broke in the writers’ room before it happened,” she said. “That’s how in the culture Lee and the writers on this show are. They know what’s happening. We don’t do ripped-from-the-headline shows. If you see something on the show and you think it might have come from that, invariably we preceded that. Life is mimicking art in this case.”
5. “Who’s that?” – Henson, on the rumored arrival of Mariah Carey on Empire. (Hold your Twitter drafts—she was only joking.)
6. It’s up for debate whether Lucious’ season-ending misdiagnosis—surprise, he doesn’t have ALS after all!—was the plan all along, or if it was just a way to keep Howard around in the wake of the show’s success. Chaiken said that Lucius was always going to misdiagnosed, a decision made in the very beginning, but Daniels joked, “We love him, we can’t get rid of him. We had to misdiagnose!”
7. Daniels is taking the Emmy snubs in stride, despite getting publicity for a jokey Instagram about the lack of nominations. “It’s all good! We got three!” he shouted, cheering on Henson and the wardrobe department. “People like to dwell on the negative and look at sour grapes, and it really wasn’t a place of sour grapes. If you study my Instagram, you see that there’s a deep sense of twisted humor that was there, and a deep appreciation for the Emmys.”