Magazine Feature

'Empire' Superfan Don Lemon Dishes on Being 'Straight-Up Cookie' and Why There Should Be a Kanye-Lucious Ticket in 2020

Chuck Hodes/FOX

Lucious (Terrence Howard) toasts his family in the "Devil Quotes Scripture" episode airing Wednesday, January, 21 2015. 

The CNN anchor talks to Billboard about relating to Jamal, Lucious-as-Trump and his favorite “bad bitch” on TV.

We hear you’re a major fan of the show.

I watch every single episode. They’re DVR’ed, so I also watch them again.

Why do you think the show is so popular?

One is timing; we’re dealing with all these issues in the culture right now. Two, hip-hop is big. Also, research shows that black families watch a lot of television. But the main reason is that it’s brilliant. The character development is great, the family dynamic is great, the actors are amazing and Lee Daniels is a genius. 

Exclusive: Meet New 'Empire' Cast Member Bre-Z

Who’s your favorite character?

I love me some Cookie; she is the show. I love Lucious because he’s a bad-mother-shut-your-mouth. But for me it’s probably Jamal. I relate to him as a man of color who came out and wants to live his authentic self. He does his thing. 

Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for CNN
Don Lemon attends the 2014 CNN Heroes: An All Star Tribute at American Museum of Natural History on November 18, 2014 in New York City. 

Cookie does some rotten things and most viewers still love her. Why’s that?

Because she’s authentic. She doesn’t give a you-know-what about what people think about her. She’s a modern-day… I shouldn’t even say she’s a modern-day Alexis Carrington on Dynasty. Cookie is her own thing. She’s a bad bitch.

Do you know a real-life Cookie?

You just read my mind. There are lots of real-life Cookies in my family. She’s that old-school lady with the fur who’s been around the way. What we call a soldier. My mom might even be a Cookie.

'Empire' Releases Pitbull & Ne-Yo Songs From Season 2

Which real-world power player does Lucious Lyon remind you of?

Lucious Lyon is straight-up Donald Trump. Or Donald Trump is straight-up Lucious Lyon. Maybe Lucious will run for president one day. A Kanye/Lucious ticket?

What do you make of the criticism that Empire sometimes perpetuates negative stereotypes?

I’ve talked about this on CNN. I’ve even spoken to Lee Daniels about it. Listen, this show is not going to represent all aspects of African-American culture, nor should it. It’s artists doing their thing. People of color are just as diverse and just as complicated as any other culture. So why shouldn’t the show reflect that? 

What’s your favorite song from the show?

Probably “Drip Drop.” [Sings] Drip drippity drop. I think that’s everybody’s, right?

Your agent calls and says you’ve been invited to join the cast in season two. Describe the character you’d like to play.

I would like to play Cookie’s long-lost brother who comes back into her life after being the black sheep of the family or getting cast off or being in a mental institution. Then I come back and I’m her male foil because I know everything about her. I know how to pull her strings, her triggers, what upsets her. She loves me but she hates me.

Watch 'Empire's' New Season 2 Promo

Are you more Lucious or more Cookie?

A combination? I have Cookie’s survival instincts and spirit. But also I think Lucious has a heart … Noooo, I’m straight-up Cookie. She has heart, too, but she doesn’t take any shit.

This story will appear in Billboard’s TV and Music issue, on sale Sept. 18