'Empire' Breakout Star Jamila Velazquez Dishes on Romancing Hakeem & Her Solo Music: Exclusive

Jamila Velazquez
Chuck Hodes/FOX

Jamila Velazquez in the “Be True” episode of "Empire" airing Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015 on FOX.

If you’ve been watching Empire this season -- and you better, because it’s oh-so-good -- you may have noticed there is lots of Latin star power, most notably from Becky G and Pitbull, both of whom guested on recent episodes.

But on last week’s Oct. 14 episode, a fresh voice emerged, and it was a face we hadn’t seen before. Still, she had Hakeem in love, had us more than intrigued and had Twitter blowing up. That voice/face has a name, and it’s 19-year-old Jamila Velazquez, an actress/singer of Puerto Rican, Dominican and Ecuadorian descent who’s making her Hollywood dreams come true.

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The good news is that beautiful solo of hers we heard (“Lago Azul," a Spanish cover of Linda Rondstadt’s “Blue Bayou”) won’t be the last. There's a lot more Jamila where that came from -- she's in 9 out of the 18 episodes in season 2. 

We called up the budding singer/actress, who’s originally from Bronx, New York, but is in Chicago at the moment filming the show. She gave us the scoop on all things Empire, her musical influences, and what she’s got cooking in the months ahead both on the music and TV front.

If you want a different taste for her sound other than her Empire music, check out her heartfelt pop/rock ballad “Nothing Like You,” which she wrote herself and reminds us of a young Shakira back in the day. There’s a bilingual version of that, too, so the possibilities for crossover stardom are endless.

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And guess what, A&Rs? She’s still unsigned! Though probably not for long…

How did you land the Empire role?

I’ve been acting and singing since I was a little girl and I started auditioning since I was 15. After about two years of auditioning is when I booked my first role on Law & Order: SVU, then I got a recurring part on this show called Twisted on ABC Family. And then, literally a week before I auditioned for Empire, I got a little guest part on Orange is the New Black (the upcoming fourth season). I was so happy when I got the call about Empire because my family and I are such big fans of the show. I was actually wondering, why aren’t there any Latinas on there? And lo and behold, they wrote a part for a Latina.

So awesome! What can you tell us about your character?

Laura Calleros is her name and she’s a Nuyorican from the Bronx.  There will be a romance eventually between her and Hakeem. I feel like she’s just very real, compared to everybody else Hakeem is used to working with. She’s a girl who really demands his respect and works hard; she’s not the type to sleep her way to the top. I think performing is the most exciting part of being on the show, because before this, I wasn’t really going out there and doing any gigs. I was really nervous because I knew they would make me sing and dance but I also felt like it’d be amazing practice to get better at being a performer and commanding the stage. It really brought out my confidence.

That must be such a fun set. Do you interact with Cookie [Taraji P. Henson] at all?

It is! She’s just great, always improvising. I think that’s one of the best parts of the show is the freedom for the cast to come up with their own things. It makes it extra fun to watch and she’s definitely the one who brings that the most to set.

Speaking of the Cookie Monster, does she approve of this romance with Hakeem?

Well, you’ll see…[laughs]

Who’s your favorite character on the show?

I just love Porsha (Ta’Rhonda Jones), who plays Cookie’s assistant. This is her first acting job and she’s just so charismatic. She’s always bringing the comedy. 

We heard “Lago Azul,” which is beautiful. Is that indicative of Laura's sound on the show?

There’s going to be more official songs from the show and some features with Hakeem. It’s going to be dope. A lot of the songs are in English, in that urban pop sound. I had actually never heard of "Blue Bayou" before this, but my family did. They gave me the background and showed me the singers that sang it before me. I loved it; I thought it was the perfect introduction for my character. 

Please elaborate!

Well, in the scene you can see that this is her first performance, the song starts off really low and quiet and it just builds up from there. There’s so much space to really, really sing in that song. It was perfect because she’s not sure what she’s doing but then eventually she just lets go.

Who are your musical influences?

Growing up, I really loved Cher; she’s an icon, has been in amazing movies and she’s had plenty of hits, too. Fiona Apple is one of my favorites. I have a wide range; I go from Led Zeppelin and Alice in Chains to Future and Drake. When it comes to Latin music, I always loved Amanda Miguel. That’s who my parents showed me when I started singing Spanish ballads. I like Laura Pausini and of course Shakira, because she’s just amazing.

When did you discover you had that big voice?

I always loved to sing but when I was around 10 my parents were like, "There’s something there, she can really do this." I took vocal lessons until I was about 14 or 15. I haven’t done vocal coaching recently because I’m busy with the show, but it’s definitely something I want to get back to it because I need it.

So what’s in store for you beyond the show?

I have a song called “Nothing Like You” on YouTube -- it’s a classic, alternative, pop/rock break-up song, and that’s kind of where I want to go, but I might also go in a different direction. And I’m still auditioning for acting roles. For me, both acting and singing just mesh. I love telling stories so they both make me just as happy.