Ne-Yo on His 'Open-Ended' 'Empire' Storyline, 'Heartfelt' Tin Man on 'The Wiz Live!' & More

Chuck Hodes/FOX
Jussie Smollett and guest star Ne-Yo in the “Be True” episode of "Empire" airing Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015 on FOX.

Already among the cast of songwriter/producers working behind the scenes, Ne-Yo steps in front of the camera for Wednesday’s (Oct. 21) new episode of Empire. Playing himself, the Grammy winner will be collaborating on new music with Jussie Smollett’s character Jamal. Also joining Ne-Yo as a guest star in the episode, titled “Be True,” is Adam Rodriguez (Magic Mike XXL, CSI: Miami).

But Empire isn’t the only thing keeping Ne-Yo busy these days. He’s deep into rehearsal mode for NBC’s The Wiz Live!, set to air Dec. 3. Ne-Yo plays the Tin Man, traveling down the Yellow Brick Road with Shanice Williams (Dorothy), Elijah Kelley (Scarecrow) and David Alan Grier (Cowardly Lion).

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Squeezing out a few minutes during a Wiz rehearsal break, Ne-Yo tells Billboard he’s relishing the ripping and running his busy schedule currently entails. “Doing as much as you can for as long as you can -- that’s the motto,” says the newly minted 36-year-old.

Will you have a recurring role on Empire

That I don’t know. It’s very open-ended as far as my character goes and what it is I bring to the storyline, so it’s a possibility. But if you never saw me again, it wouldn’t hurt the story either.

One of the songs you’ve already done that airs tonight is “Never Love Again.”

It’s a song about ultimate heartbreak, the kind of heartbreak that makes you feel like you’re never going to find anybody better. That because you messed up everything, you’re never going to love again.

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Will you be writing songs for the singers portrayed by Serayah McNeill (Tiana) and V. Bozeman (Veronika)? 

I’ve done some music for Tiana that’s coming up in future episodes. I don’t know about V. yet. I would love to get with her. I’m a huge fan.

From your perspective, describe Empire’s musical impact. 

I think people are getting into these Empire songs because of the emotional investment they have in the characters. You kind of feel like you know the songs already because you just watched them play out in front of you with these characters. It helps get us back to that place where attention spans are long enough to really get into the storyline of a record. I’ve spoken before on how the art of storytelling has been lost a bit. I definitely feel Empire is helping to reprogram us back to that place where we pay attention and invest emotionally in the records and the artists.

Any hints as to what’s in store with the new Wiz?

We definitely want to pay homage to the original. But there’s no re-creating that or re-creating what Michael Jackson and Diana Ross did in The Wiz. We’re trying to figure out who these characters are in 2015. How would these times change their motives, change the things they would say and do? I’m trying to bring something new to the Tin Man. He may be the one without the heart, but he’s the most heartfelt guy there. It’s a more manly heartfelt, a don’t-feel-sorry-for-me type of heartfelt. I don’t want to say tougher, because that just sounds stupid. But the Tin Man is a man’s man.