Swagger On Display At 'Empire' Season Finale Parties
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
A new series on the Fox television network is challenging assumptions of what American audiences will watch. "Empire" just finished its first season in the top 10 and is the most popular new show in at least a decade, becoming a cultural phenomenon. NPR's Bilal Qureshi went to a watch party last night in Washington, D.C., for the season finale.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Why is he up there?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Here we go. Here we go. Here we go. Come on everybody - round of applause. It's "Empire" time.
BILAL QURESHI, BYLINE: At one of D.C.'s biggest "Empire" watch parties, a sharply dressed crowd of hundreds is huddled around every flat-screen in a club downtown.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EMPIRE")
BRYSHERE GRAY: (As Hakeem Lyon) I'm going to run the empire. I'm gone.
QURESHI: "Empire" is about the messy family politics behind a hip-hop label. The owner's son is a rapper. And in one of the key scenes in the finale, he trashes his father in verse. The father knocks him out. It's exactly the kind of drama D.C. native Brian Fagan loves.
BRIAN FAGAN: You get that every week. Every week, you're on the edge of your seat waiting for what's happening next, you know? You only get that in a few shows these days.
QURESHI: In just 12 episodes, "Empire" has shattered expectations and records to become one of network TV's biggest and most talked-about shows. Its original soundtrack is soaring on iTunes.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRIP DROP")
SERAYAH MCNEILL: (Singing) I do my dance like...
YAZZ: (Singing) Drip drop, drip drippity (ph) drop.
QURESHI: It's a primetime soap opera filled with glamorous apartments and designer bling. Oscar-nominated actor Taraji P. Henson is Cookie, the show's breakout star.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EMPIRE")
TERRENCE HOWARD: (As Lucious Lyon) No other music company has ever...
TARAJI P. HENSON: (As Cookie Lyon) Don't forget to thank me, baby. Don't forget to thank your Cookie on this historic occasion.
QURESHI: Cookie's fierce insults and animal prints have kept the fans' tweets and obsession flowing. At the D.C. watch party, there's even a Cookie makeover station and impersonation contest.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Somebody - a Cookie makeover. Make sure you get to table and register.
QURESHI: Tee Lewis came to this watch party because she wanted to see the final episode with a crowd.
TEE LEWIS: It's a hype night, you know? It's the finale night.
QURESHI: Why do you love the show? And what is it about the show that you love so much?
LEWIS: Seeing Cookie, of course (laughter).
QURESHI: When the commercials end and the dialogue is back, nobody in this audience wants to miss a beat.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I missed it. What's your name?
VELOE: Veloe (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Veloe?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Keep quiet, No, I'm just playing (laughter).
QURESHI: Critics have raved about "Empire" and how it shatters assumptions about who watches so-called black TV shows. "Empire's" white and Latino audience has grown with every episode. It's also not a heavy-handed show about race, civil rights or politics. It's meant to be fun. Lee Daniels, one of Hollywood's leading black filmmakers, helped create "Empire." And D.C. native Tee Lewis says she just hopes he can build on that success.
LEWIS: It probably shocked him. So now he got to go back to the drawing board and get ready for another season 'cause we're hungry. We want more (laughter).
QURESHI: Fox has already renewed "Empire" for a second season, and it's expected to air later this year. Bilal Qureshi, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD ENOUGH")
JUSSIE SMOLLETT: (Singing) I give you all of me, but it still ain't enough to make you happy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.