‘Empire’s’ Serayah McNeil encourages artists to ‘stay woke’

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Serayah McNeil became an overnight sensation in her breakout role as “Tiana” on the hit-series Empire, and she’s living out her music dreams in real life too.

Since joining the show last year, the 20-year-old California native has inked a deal with Columbia Records, become a style icon and built an Instagram following of more than 1 million people.  She has plans to drop her own mixtape while lending her singing talents to Empire as well.

“[Tiana] is so overly confident ,and it’s forced me to be confident in my real life,” Serayah told theGrio.com in an interview. “So I’ve definitely learned a lot, and musically, I just keep growing. It’s all I could ask for, really.”

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But Serayah has kept grounded in the midst of her celebrity. The actress splits her time between shooting Empire in Chicago and seeing family in LA. She also likes staying in to cook and watch TV, as much as she enjoys hitting the red carpet.

She also says there’s more to life than social media and flashing lights. When asked about the newest wave of artists like Beyoncé who are talking about issues like Black Lives Matter in their music, Serayah says she’s all for it.

“I think it’s great that these artists who we have watched growing up show [the younger generation] that it’s not all about Instagram and what you have,” she said. “There’s so much more going on in the world. And you need to be aware.”

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This season of the show addresses issues such as police brutality, when Andre Lyon gets racially profiled outside of his home and arrested.

Despite Empire’s fun and over-to-top reputation, the show’s writers said there is room for real conversation. When it comes to music, Serayah says staying woke is more needed than ever.

“I was just talking to one of my friends, and I feel like as a younger generation  we have gotten so spoiled into thinking that these things aren’t going on anymore,” she continued. “We’re clearly seeing that it hasn’t gone away since our grandmas were kids. It’s been more suppressed, but it hasn’t vanished.”

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