'Empire' Star Serayah Talks About Receiving Praise From Beyonce, Premieres New Video 'So Good'
Usually, Nicki Minaj’s iconic “Itty Bitty Piggy” is known for serving as the herald of a true upcoming bonding moment at a party between everyone who knows all the words, but to Serayah, the verse was responsible for an absolutely pivotal moment in her career. Her rendition of Nicki’s verse landed her a spot on the hit show Empire, where she currently plays the role of Tiana. Since then, her life has taken a dramatic turn for the better.
Her career as an actress was catapulted by the success of the award-winning show, and even earned her direct praise from Beyoncé, but Serayah continued to feed her true longtime passion: making music. With putting out original music and visuals as her main focus this year, she dropped her 8-song project, Addicted, in April and is following up with her newest single “So Good.”
Despite having over a million Instagram followers and a starring role on a huge show, Serayah continues to promote the importance of never letting the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood life get to her head. “Want it for different reasons other than flexing,” she tells Billboard. “If that’s all you want it for, you’ll drown.” As she takes on her acting, singing and dancing with full force, the young star proves she has a diverse skill set with the beauty, grace, and humility to match.
Billboard sat down with Serayah to discuss her new single “So Good,” how her life has changed since her big break, and the moment she received Beyoncé’s direct blessing.
How did your new single “So Good” come about and what was your thought process behind it?
I was vibing in the studio in North Hollywood. The producer, Joe Black, works a lot with Rodney Jerkins, which is how I met him. Also, Akazi and Wade, these two songwriters. I ended up laying some melodies down because that’s how I usually like to do it, melodies first. We were all in the room just vibing. I just happened to say, [sings] "Mmm, mmm, mmm, so good,” and I was like, “I think that’s the hook, y’all!” And we went from there. So, we saved that part, wrote the rest of the song, and it was just lit. I love the energy behind the song. I feel like I didn’t have a record like that yet, so I was really excited.
Usually when you’re doing melodies, you may not the have words yet, you know? In that moment, I just happened to say that. I was like, “Wow, this must be how I’m feeling right now.” You feel it.
Since the music video is just you -- no dancers or anyone else to feed energy off of -- what was it like on the set of the video?
It was lit. It’s just me and it was so many hours. It was all in one day and I had to just get it because we booked it for a certain amount of time, so I had to just nail it. When you’re the only one, you have to be even more captivating, get it, and have no distractions.
One moment I loved in the Variety feature about you was when you were in the studio and the producers were like, “She’s so good that she sounds like her voice is mixed already.”
[Laughs] Thank you! I feel like I definitely have grown into my voice. When I was younger, I was an alto, so I just always was using my lower register. But now I’m definitely playing around more with my craft.
You have this triple threat thing going on: singing, acting and dancing. Is there a favorite passion among the three, or have you always known you wanted to do all of them?
For me, I started writing music at a very young age, just as a form of expression really. Then [I began] singing. Dancing was side by side with that. I was just singing and dancing a lot until I got a little bit older, which is when I started acting. I would say music and performing has always been my favorite, but the more that I act and figure out that world, it’s really intriguing to me. I would love to do both forever.
Have you had an “I made it” moment yet?
I don’t know. I mean, can I brag real quick?
Talk your shit.
The moment I felt like I made was around the same time I was in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video. That whole year, she was going crazy, winning all the awards and breaking all these records. For the Grammys, she invited me and Selena Gomez backstage after she won album of the year. It was a super big moment.
Then, here comes this goddess. My whole world just -- I couldn’t hear anything.
Girl, it’s Beyoncé.
I knew because every time someone is about to tell a Beyoncé-related story, they have that same look you have right now.
[Laughs] In my head, I’m like, “Do I say anything? Do I fangirl? Do I act composed?” But then I realized I might never be around her again. She walks by me and I’m like, “Fuck it. I’m about to do it.” I broke down and I was like, “Oh my God, you’re my inspiration.” I actually don’t even remember what I said. I was rambling and I had a fangirl moment. She said thank you and kept walking. Then, she turns around and comes back and says, “Wait, I just noticed who you are. Keep up the good work. You’re amazing.” She gave me a hug.
You’re complimenting my work? You watch Empire? That was my moment. I was definitely like, “Yeah, I’m doing good work out here.” For her to do that, I realized, for you to be on top of the game, you don’t have to -- you know how people move differently? No, she gives credit where it’s due. She didn’t have to do that, but she did.
Since your “I made it” moment, how has your life changed?
Oh God, my life is drastically different. We didn’t have much growing up. We moved around a lot, you know, things like that. For me to be doing the things I’m doing on this level is crazy, and I know it’ll get bigger. Being able to eat what I want and my mom’s good, everything is straight, I’m blessed. I’m super grateful. I’m ready for the next thing and I’m ready to keep going. I gotta get it.
So, what is the next thing then?
Auditions. More Empire, of course. More music, for sure. That’s what I’m grinding out right now, like putting out my music and my visuals. Let my fans know who I am. I feel like I had an opposite start from a lot people. I started on this glamorous show as a pop star. People don’t really know me yet apart from being a celebrity, whereas sometimes you get to see people’s struggle and grind. I think people didn’t get to see mine so they think I had none. That’s what I’m wanting to express. I had a start, a grind and a struggle.
Did you think it happened all so fast? You were cast for this huge show and boom, thrown into the spotlight.
Definitely. I didn’t know this world. It’s so different. I was thrown into situations and into different rooms with celebrities. I had to learn real quick.
Twitter is a crazy place.
They went crazy on me. I said I like Chris Brown, and then Taylor Swift fans were coming at me. Also, something was going on with Beyoncé and JAY-Z and I tweeted a Destiny’s Child lyric and people were coming at me like, “Don’t come at Bey like that.” Like, what? How did we get there? Everything I write is just turned into something else!
Being popular, especially on social media as you are, it comes with tons of support and love, but also a lot of hate. How much do you really pay attention to all that?
I don’t. I go through, post, do what I have to do. I try to comment and show some love to fans and reply and things like that, but I got caught up in that early. It’s a lot to get used to but what I found works the best for me is to just do me. I just post, then, leave. I don’t check anymore what people have to say, to a certain extent. That’s why I’m not really on Twitter anymore.
What advice would you give to all the girls out there who are watching you right now, who want this life, too?
It’s truly advice I give to myself every day. Don’t get wrapped up in what you see on social media and what you think it is. Want it for different reasons other than flexing. If that’s all you want it for, you’ll drown. It’s going to be too much. Really have a passion and a balance. Perfect your craft by investing in yourself. Stand up for women and stand up for who you are.
There are so many times where some people feel like, if you’re not “there” yet, you don’t have the right to stand your ground. You do. All the time. Your status doesn’t matter because you’re still a human being. At the end of the day, everyone in the industry is. Remain humble and grind.
Are there any Empire details you’re allowed to give us?
At the end of last season, she’s pregnant [and] she gets shot at. Tiana’s going through it! Picking up next season, it’s going to be crazy and there’s a plot twist. It’s going to be a little different than I even thought.