Serayah on Empire's Fall Finale and Why She Dropped Her Last Name

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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?

I really like Migos, Future, Drake, and I'm still into Solange's new album. 

Who would be your dream music collaboration?

It would be really cool to have a girl power moment with Beyoncé.

RELATED: 12 Things to Know About Our Style Crush, Serayah McNeill

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. 

RELATED: Empire Star Serayah McNeill Says Her Style Is "Not at All" Like Her Character Tiana's

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. 


I've decided to talk to you guys and get some feedback. If you watched the show last night I want to know what you think and also any other questions that you'd like to ask. Lets start. Okay. Welcome to instyle. Our first question is what has been your favorite scene to film this season?>> This season I would say that my favorite scene to film was This scene that was shown last night when Nessa burned Tiana's dress, and it was such a good episode. I feel like Tiana got a good chunk of things to do in that episode, music, Aces High, and then she got to have a moment with Nessa that no one Have seen before from Diana, so that was really exciting. Awesome, and how do you think fans will feel about the mid-season finale this week. I think Enwire does a really great job at leaving big cliffhangers, and some of that I mean literally. People hanging Off of cliffs, but I think they're going to love it. I feel like they're going to, after the midseason break, there's so much, so keep tuning in. Social media is always buzzing with those midseason finales too, what's the craziest fan reaction you've gotten so far? About the season finale? Or the season or like- In general. In general. You know it's always funny to me because people are like Hakeem and Tiana and there like, they were kind of getting a little spicy about it, you know they are kind of getting a little spicy about trying to have them move so those comments always can be a little funny And of course you sing quite a bit on the show. Can you speak about what your audition was like? Did it involve singing? Did it involve multiple roles? Right, yes, I had to sing in the audition. I had to sing, do my sides, my lines And I had to rap actually cuz Tiana was gonna be like a rough R&B artist from New York. But that changed obviously [LAUGH]. But yeah, so I had to rap too, it's crazy. What did you rap? Do you remember? Mm-hm. I rapped, actually I loved Nicki Minaj, when she first came out. Her first mixtape Nicki Minaj And I still love Rhianna. But I loved her mix tape. me and my friends would practice every line from her mix tape, so I did a song from there. Awesome, what other songs are you listening to right now? Or artists? I'm listening to Migos a lot right now. Now, Future Drake, a love is only a fake love. Still on Silonda's album, love it. Who would be a dream collaboration for you as an artist? Dream collab [BLANK_AUDIO] I feel like it would be really cool to have a girl power moment with Beyonce. That would be awesome. [LAUGH] Or your friend, Taylor. Or Taylor. Hey, she's amazing, too. And speaking of girl power. [INAUDIBLE] You seem to be a really big proponent of the Girl Squad, can you speak about those friendships, and why that's so important to you? I mean, I think it's just important to celebrate and to support the other people in the industry and other young people. The industry, other woman in the industry their doing their things and are being so good at what they do. To be uplifting and not to tear each other down it feels amazing. And for me to be able to walk into that situation where everyone is just celebrating each other and organically and genuine. That's what matters. A lot of people watching are saying they love your style. Thank you. Can you tell us who makes this awesome jump suit? So this jump suit is made by LA Roxx and that's R-O-X-X. But it's amazing I loved it when my stylist Martha and Weyman They were like do you like this. I was like yep give it to me bring it in I would love to wear that all day, it's amazing. And I love the choker as well. The choker, thank you so much. And this is actually really comfy it's like stretchy. It doesn't like choke you to death like the other ones [LAUGH]. And you've told us in the past that your personal style is very Different from Tiana's on the show. Is there a piece that you've worn on the show that you would wear in real life? Or do you have a favorite costume you've worn so far? Tiana, she actually wore. You guys didn't get to see it. But she wore a oversized t-shirt one episode. And she had on the Yeezy thigh-high boots. That's something I would wear in real life. But my favorite costume of Tiana's is the Look But Don't Touch costume. Cuz it gave me very Britney Spear's vibes and I was lovin every second of it. So, if there was a piece you'd take it. Would be from set. Would it be the easy thigh high boots? Or. Mm-hm. Yep, it would be that, for sure. Those boots, I'm like, give them here. Actually, me and Taraji were like. Taraji's like, those are mine. I'm like, girl, these are mine. She like, those are mine. And we were fighting all day over them. That's great. And where else do you like to shop? What are some of your favorite stores, designers? Hmm, favorite designers? I really like Y3, there shoes are really cool and different. But, I really like to go thrifting though, I still shop at the same places H&M, I love A Sauce, I love Top Shot, Cotton On. We just went to Cotton On. Big sale on a car phone. Tar-zhay, Target, for those, but Tar-zhay, is where I love to go to, and I get like a lot of athletic wear from there. But, yeah. I guess most of the things I would buy probably The designer likes shoes. Most of the time. But, clothes? I'm like, I like to vintage shop and stuff. It's whatever's cute. Our reader Kelly, is asking what is your wish for Christmas, if you have one? That was so, [BLANK_AUDIO] Put me in the spirit. I love that question. My wish for Christmas? I feel like I'm seven again. Let's see, I think my wish for Christmas would be to have everyone in one room and do the whole presents thing. Cuz everyone has different schedules and stuff. Have everyone in the room and to just do like presents and food and to make it be like Thanksgiving again, but not Thanksgiving, but better than Thanksgiving. Are you a big cook, do you have plans for the holidays. No, I'm just kidding. No, I'm trying to get better. Look, I cook mac and cheese. This year, and it was good. But no, I'm not a big cook. But I like to learn and watch. That's great. Can you speak a little bit about your decision to sorta drop you last name and become just [UNKNOWN]? I wish there was like a big cool story, but I guess I just looked at myself. I was like okay, well. So in ten years, who are you going to be? And I wanted to be Sarai, like the big Like former musician everything across the board so that just stuck to me and I was like I think I just wanted to be Soraya like I felt like everyone just should know. It's such a unique name. Thank you. Did you always have that growing up? I chose it myself actually. Actually. Yeah when I was. No, it's an Israeli name, and it means princess. But we found that out much later, my mom just really loved the name. Did you have a nickname for Annette or? Yeah, my dad calls me Ray or Raya, but nothing like Like Skittle Whoop, or anything cool. Just like a portion of my name. [LAUGH] And speaking of future projects, you have a new film, Burning Sands. Yes. A Netflix film. Yes Can you tell us a bit about that? Okay, so I was on this new film Netflix film. Independent That I'm really excited about, it's called Burning Sands. And it's based in Virginia at HBCU college and I actually get to play a normal kid that is in college, and she is a part of like, the AKAs of the sororities at the school Really cute character. She likes the lead, which is Trevor Jackson. I got to be in a movie with so many dope, young people that I haven't met before, and I'm really excited about it. So yeah, and it's going to Sundance. It's going to Sundance. Yeah. And this will be your first Sundance, are you excited? First Sundance, yes, my first independent movie. First Sundance, it's great. You'll have to get a whole Sundance wardrobe. I will be. Stylist are gonna be loaded. [LAUGH] That's great. Well, I think that's about all our questions for today. Awesome. Well, thank you guys for tuning in. I'm so excited to be here at InStyle and being able to talk to you guys. Keep watching Empire. The season finale is next week. See you soon. Bye.
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