Queen Latifah has been waiting for her Star moment for years.
The Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning actress and recording artist is the biggest name in Fox’s new music-industry drama from Lee Daniels, the executive producer and co-creator of Empire.
Throughout the development process of Star, which premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Latifah and Daniels were in constant contact, trading their thoughts about the show.
Actually, Daniels evidently did most of the talking while Latifah was enthralled by his creative genius.
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“I’ve watched the development of this show through the years,” she says. “Just talking to him on the phone and him walking me through every beat: ‘Here’s who I’m thinking of casting for this,’ and ‘I found this girl here and that girl there,’ and ‘Wait till you see so-and-so.’
“His excitement has gotten me excited.”
Empire viewers have reason to be excited as well.
The two shows are similar yet different, different but the same. While Empire is an over-the-top prime-time soap about family members grasping for control of a prestigious hip-hop and entertainment company, Star is an over-the-top soap about a starting-from-nowhere girl group and its climb to fame.
As Star, the title character played by feisty Jude Demorest, informs someone in the first episode, “Next time you see this face, it’s going to be on the cover of Vanity Fair.” And don’t make the mistake of doubting her, because this girl will do whatever it takes to make her dream come true.
Fittingly, Star premieres immediately after the 7 p.m. fall finale of Empire.
It’s entirely possible, by the way, that the characters in Star and Empire exist in the same universe. How long might it be before Star and her girls, Simone and Alexandra, wind up on Lucious Lyon’s radar at Empire Entertainment?
Each member of the new group has loads of raw ability, but just as much baggage.
Star, whose mom was a music-industry up-and-comer before her death a decade ago, is a survivor of the foster-care system. Her confidence is equaled by a huge ego. “Ever since Star was little,” Latifah’s character says, “she believed her name was who she was.” To her way of thinking, fame is her birthright.
Simone (played by Brittany O’Grady) is Star’s emotionally damaged sister. She’s a victim of the system, traumatized by years of sexual abuse at the hands of a foster father. Now she deadens her pain with alcohol and drugs; but when it’s time to perform, she shines. How will fame affect her?
Alexandra (played by Ryan Destiny) is a rich girl with great talent and songwriting chops who hooked up with Star via social media. Alexandra’s secret? She hasn’t told the others that her dad is a music-biz superstar (Lenny Kravitz). He could make her a star overnight, but she would rather do it herself.
In the pilot episode, viewers will get a taste of the girls’ backstories and then will see their first steps to the top of the happening Atlanta music scene. Star, who knows no boundaries, will snag their manager (played by Benjamin Bratt) at a scuzzy strip club.
“The girls are great,” says Latifah, who plays Carlotta, the surrogate-mother figure for Star and Simone. “Watching the casting of it, I think these girls are perfect.”
It’s a bold stroke of casting that each girl is played by a virtual newcomer to television. Will these actresses make the big time like their characters?
Actually, the real question is this: Will Empire viewers embrace this new series and its new characters the way they have Lucious, Cookie and the rest?
Queen Latifah, in her first series role since Living Single (1993-1998), thinks people will love it.
“There are some great elements to what this show is that I think are going to keep people interested and watching every week,” she says. “It also gives me something to do that’s exciting and challenging, which is what I need every time I take on a role.
“It takes a Lee Daniels to bring me back to television. I really feel like he is creative enough. This is an interesting-enough character. The story is interesting enough to sing my teeth into and stay with.”
- 8 p.m. Wednesday
- KDFW/Channel 4