The season premiere of Empire is only hours away. The fireworks will be explosive and to add a little flair, fans will be treated to Miss Lawrence making a cameo in the hit series, which was created by Oscar nominee Lee Daniels. We all know Miss Lawrence from Real Housewives of Atlanta, Fashion Queens and overall fabulousness, but this next leg of the diva’s career is back to his performing arts roots, starting with belting out some notes on Empire tonight.
We chatted with Miss Lawrence as he was curling hair (go to MissLawrence.com for details on the Miss Lawrence Flat Iron) about Empire, LGBT politics and he got deep about his often-criticized presence on Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Tell us about your appearance on Empire, you must be really excited.
I'm super excited! I met Lee Daniels a few years ago; he came up to me at a restaurant and introduced himself. He had recognized me from being on Bravo. Fast forwarding to Empire, which was gaining tremendous amounts of success, I'm in Bevy Smith’s dressing room goofing around and I go into an impromptu skit of Cookie and Jamal Lyon. Bevy is recording me, she sends it to Lee and says, "Hire this girl!”
Few months later, Bevy gets a phone call from Lee and he's like, "Somebody told me that Miss Lawrence can sing!" He asked Bevy for me to send him something; I recorded the first verse and hook of Sylvester's "Mighty Real.” About two weeks later, Lee Daniels calls, tells me I could sing and puts Lenny Kravitz on the phone. Lenny is telling me how much he loves my voice. He gave the phone back and Lee said, "I'm gonna be in touch.” I jokingly said, "You need to put me on Empire!" and he said, “I got you!" Casting called, gave me my dates, I went, did it and there's nothing that I would change about what I did there. Lee was extremely impressed and very happy.
Are you playing yourself on Empire?
I am! I started out in performing arts so now I'm able to go back to performing arts on my own terms, being comfortable and walking in full acceptance and truth of who I really am.
There have been so many people, especially Black gay folks, who are happy to see a character like Jamal Lyon on TV. What was your reaction when you first saw Jamal?
I was extremely happy to see a character like Jamal Lyon on television because when I was on Bravo, especially Fashion Queens, I received so many, how can I put it, ill-will moments of people saying, "Not every gay person is flamboyant. The only way you can get mainstream, get on television, you got to be like a Miss Lawrence and wear lipstick." That’s not true. What gets you noticed or gets you to the next level is walking authentically in your divine purpose. Jamal Lyon shows that. The fact that he stood up to his father, stood up to his mother and said, “I'm gonna be me.” Empire is so necessary in so many ways and for me to be able to work with a stellar cast, director and producers who are award winners — it’s still beyond me and it's still extremely surreal.
You brought up Bravo. I remember you and Derek J got some heat, even from others in the LGBT community. When people were criticizing you, did it hurt?
No, I have always been me, I've always been flamboyant, always been gender non-conforming. I've heard it all, I've gotten every side-eye you could possibly think of, and it doesn't bother me. What most people are taught, especially through some Black churches, is the idea of what a Black man is supposed to look or act like. That’s all they know, and I don't hold them accountable, it’s a lack of education or strong influence of ignorance.
What do you think about Amiyah Scott, a transgender woman, coming to Real Housewives at Atlanta?
Amiyah is a dear friend of mine. She's a sweetheart. I try not to look at it as a transgender woman coming to the Housewives; I look at it as this beautiful model that’s coming on the show. I don't know what her storyline will be, but I look at it as excitement for the show. I think the show needed a face-lift and I think Amiyah is great for that.
Some people have felt like some of the women of Real Housewives of Atlanta are unconsciously homophobic — Nene saying "Queen," Porsha getting caught with her anti-gay video a couple years ago and Marlo saying "f****t.” Are people being too critical or is there some unconscious homophobia?
I left the Housewives of Atlanta for that very reason — well, that’s one of the reasons that I left. We don't hold a lot of women accountable for culture appropriation. They love to borrow from the culture, steal intellectual property from the gay community, and most of them don't give back. The first time an inflammatory situation arises the first thing that comes out of their mouth is "queen” or the whole f-bomb. The one episode where Kenya [Moore]'s friend got beat up at Nene's party, no one was held accountable, there was no real apology put in place. I knew then that was not a place to occupy my time. I knew that there’s no way I can call myself a social activist and be a real activist for my community on that show. I'm not angry with them; I just think they need to be educated. At some point, we as a community have to make them respect us. It saddens me that most gay prides, especially Black gay pride, when they want to book celebrities, you look on the flyers, there’s a Porsha Williams on the flyer, Nene Leakes or Marlo Hampton. What exactly have they done for our community? We don't hold them accountable.
Are you saying part of the reason you left the show was because of the homophobia you saw?
I don't want to call them homophobic, that’s not what I'm saying. I don't think they're homophobic. What I'm saying is, they need to be held accountable for the cultural appropriation and they need to understand how to respect our culture — what’s appropriate to say and what’s not. I can almost assure you that if a white man was on a reality show and he got upset with a Black woman and said, "Black bitch,” it would be a huge uproar across America. But it’s OK if a Black woman calls a gay man a “queen” or “f****t” … some of these women, especially Marlo Hampton, when she said that years ago, it was a teachable moment for her. She didn't know it was because of the way she was raised. She expressed that to me. She came to me privately and apologized, it was a teachable moment and a person like that I can respect.
Did you ever feel like you were an accessory to these straight women on Atlanta Housewives?
Absolutely! Not everybody, I have genuine friendships with some of the girls, but I do know that most of it came out of convenience. Most of it came out of being the token gay. The go-to person, “Oh, I need a new word to say, I need some gay slang! How do I say, ‘Yaasss’?” All of that type of stuff. When you know better, you do better. With me, I'm moving in a different direction just with who I am. So I'm still friends with all the girls and I love them dearly. They'll do well.
You and Kandi did a song called “Closet Freak.” Where are you going with your own singing career?
That’s the whole moment in Empire. I get a chance to sing on the show! I am currently working with a producer. We are at the very beginning stages of planning a cover mixtape — I just want to do some covers. One in particular I want to cover is Ben E. King's "Stand by Me.”
From the beginning of Real Housewives to Fashion Queens to Empire, how would you describe your journey in the entertainment industry?
It hasn't been an easy journey. The issue is, I know that I'm a very specific talent. It's hard for agents, managers to know exactly what to do with me. Again, I'm very non-conforming. I'm not a transgender model, I'm not your masculine gay man, and I am a very explosive individual: I bring it! People don't get it at first. That is what I respect the most about a Lee Daniels, him being an openly gay man and the amount of success that he has. He gets it.
Watch our interview with Atlanta housewife Kenya Moore, below:
(Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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