Following in the footsteps of bona fide pop goddesses before her, Empire actress and singer Serayah McNeill boldly decided to drop her last name, becoming just Serayah for her burgeoning music career. "I just looked at myself and asked, 'In 10 years, who are you gonna be?' And I wanted to be Serayah: performer, musician, everything across the board," she recently said during a visit to InStyle's offices in downtown New York City. It was a calculated move for the rising star, who juggles a jam-packed filming schedule with recording a debut album and making periodic trips to hang with Taylor Swift's squad, of which she is a coveted member. Ahead of Empire's mid-season finale tonight, we caught up with Serayah in a live broadcast on our Facebook page. Watch the full video above, or read on for an excerpt from our conversation.
Is it true that you had to rap during your Empire audition?
I did! Tiana was going to be a rough R&B artist from New York. That obviously changed. I loved Nicki Minaj's mixtape when she first came out, so I did a song from there. Me and my friends would practice every line.
What artists are you listening to right now?
Who would be your dream music collaboration?
It would be really cool to have a girl power moment with Beyoncé.
Speaking of girl power, you seem to be a big proponent of the squad. Why are female friendships so important to you?
It's important to celebrate and support other young women in the industry that are so good at what they do—to be uplifting and not tear each other down feels amazing. To be able to walk into that situation where everyone is organically and genuinely celebrating each other is all that matters.
You've told us in the past that your personal style is very different from Tiana's. Is there something of hers that you would wear in real life?
You guys didn't get to see it, but Tiana wore an oversized T-shirt one episode and she had on the Yeezy thigh-high boots, that's something I would wear. Those boots ... I'm like, "Give them here!" Taraji [P. Henson] and I were fighting all day over them.
Where do you typically like to shop?
Y-3 for shoes. In terms of clothes, I like H&M, Asos, Topshop, Cotton On, and Target for athletic wear.
What can we expect from tonight's mid-season finale?
I think Empire does a really great job of leaving big cliffhangers—I mean, literally, people hanging off of cliffs [laughs]—but I think people are going to love it. There's much more to come, too.
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.