Check Out The Stars of ‘Empire’: Before They Were Famous

Taraji P. Henson - Cookie Lyon
Taraji P Henson, Felicity, The WB, Empire, FOX, 121015
Long before she played Cookie Lyon, or was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Taraji P. Henson's first role was as a 16-years old on the sitcom Smart Guy. Henson was actually 26-years old at the time. She went on to appear in several different shows in the '90s including Sister, Sister and Felicity. Henson's breakout role was in John Singleton's 2001 film Baby Boy where she co-stared with Tyrese Gibson.  After leaving CBS' Person of Interest in 2013, Henson thought she would not return to TV; but we're so glad she did.  She will be seen next in the Civil Rights drama The Best of Enemies and with Terrence Howard in the upcoming film Term Life.
Terrence Howard - Lucious Lyon
Terrence Howard, Sunset Park, TriStar Pictures, Empire, FOX, 121015
TriStar Pictures/FOX
Terrence Howard has been in the entertainment industry since 1992, when he starred in the ABC mini-series The Jacksons: An American Dream. Though he had small roles on TV shows including Family Matters and Living Single, his first major film roles were in Dead Presidents and Mr. Holland's Opus. Since then, Howard has garnered an extensive filmography and in 2005 he was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Hustle & Flow where he starred with Taraji P. Henson.  Along with Empire, Howard will be starring with Henson again in the upcoming film Term Life and he will be reprising his role as Quentin in the third installment of The Best Man films, The Best Man Wedding.
Jussie Smollett - Jamal Lyon
Jussie Smollett, The Mighty Ducks, Buena Vista, Empire FOX, 1210115
Buena Vista/FOX
You might not remember Jussie Smollett before his role as Jamal Lyon on Empire, however the singer/actor has been acting since the early '90s. One of Smollett's earliest roles was in the beloved film The Mighty Ducks. Smollett's younger sister is actress Jurnee Smollett; and the duo starred along with their other siblings Jake, Jazz, Jojo and Jocqui in the short-lived ABC sitcom On Our Own from '94-'95.  Smollett will be joining Jurnee Smollett-Bell on screen again in 2016. He will guest star in her upcoming series Underground which will air on WGN America. Prior to snagging his role on Empire, Jussie Smollett recently appeared on Revenge and The Mindy Project. Smollett was also recently signed to Columbia Records, and will be debuting an album in the near future.
article continues below ad
Bryshere Y. Gray - Hakeem Lyon
Bryshere Gray, YouTube, Empire, FOX, 121015
Bryshere Y. Gray aka Yazz The Great was an upcoming rapper from Philadelphia who was working on his album prior to getting the attention of Lee Daniels and Empire's producers. Empire is actually Gray's first acting role. Check out one of Yazz The Great's rap videos here.
Trai Byers - Andre Lyon
Trai Byers, All My Children, ABC, Empire, FOX,121215
A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Trai Byers' performance as the eldest and most serious Lyon brother, Andre comes naturally. Prior to snagging his role on Empire, Byers' first starred on ABC's long-running soap opera All My Children as Mookie. Afterward, he went on to star in The CW's 90210. Recently, he was seen in the critically acclaimed film Selma directed by Ava DuVernay. Trai Byers is engaged to his Empire co-star Grace Gealey.
Grace Gealey - Anika Calhoun
Grace Gealey, Instagram, Empire, FOX, 121115
Though she was born in Butler, Pennsylvania, Grace Gealey was raised in the Cayman Islands. Gealey returned to the United States where she obtained her Bachelor's in Theater at the University of South Florida and her Masters in Acting from the University of California, Irvine. Post grad, Gealey spent a great deal of time working in theater in both New York and Chicago. Empire is her first television role. Grace Gealey is engaged to actor Trai Byers who plays Andre Lyon on Empire.
article continues below ad
Kaitlin Doubleday - Rhonda Lyon
Kaitlin Doubleday, Accepted, Universal, Empire, FOX, 121115
Kaitlin Doubleday comes from an acting family, both her parents and her sister Portia Doubleday have been in the acting game forever. Doubleday made her debut on television in a 2002 episode of Without A Trace, and then appeared in the film Catch Me If You Can that same year. She has had various roles on TV including shows like Bones and Brothers and Sisters; as well as a recurring role on Showtime's Hung. In 2007, Doubleday snagged the lead role on ABC's short-lived series Cavemen. Along with playing Rhonda, Kaitlin Doubleday will be starring in the indie film, Po. She is BFF's with her Empire co-star Grace Gealey and they share the exact same birthday, July 26th.
Serayah McNeill - Tiana Brown
Serayah, Instagram, Empire, FOX, 121415
Just two years out of high school where she played on the girls basketball team, Empire is Serayah McNeill's first major acting role. The singer/dancer/ actress also starred in Taylor Swift's music video "Bad Blood". In addition to her tole as Tiana Brown on Empire, Serayah will also be seen in the upcoming films, The Blood Rage and Lucky Girl.
Gabourey Sidibe - Becky
Gabourey Sidibe, IMDB, Empire, FOX, 121415
Having no interest in acting, Gabourey Sidibe was preparing for a college exam when she heard about auditions for Lee Daniels' 2009 film Precious. Sidibe not only snagged the role but she was also nominated for an Academy Award. She went on to star in several films and television shows including Yelling to the Sky, The Big C and American Horror Story before hooking up with Daniels again for Empire. Gabourey Sidibe is a HUGE N'Sync fan and has attended 23 of their concerts. She even invited to and attended Lance Bass' wedding. Along with Empire, Sidibe will next be seen in Sacha Baron Cohen's The Brothers Grimsby.
article continues below ad
Ta'Rhonda Jones - Porsha
Ta'Rhonda Jones, Instagram, Empire, FOX, 121415
Before starring as Cookie's technologically challenged assistant Posrsha, Ta'Rhonda Jones was an assistant in a Chicago nursing home, and was working on her own music on the side. After hearing about the auditions for Empire, Jones went in to read for the role of Tiana but ended up booking the role of Porsha. Jones also guest starred on an episode of Chicago PD this year.