Empire, Jussie Smollett, Rafael de la Fuente


It didn't take long for Jussie Smollett's work as a young gay man on Empire to have some real impact on some real lives.

"A kid wrote me a letter after the second episode," Smollett tells me. "He said that Jamal gave him the courage to come out to his parents."

Smollett plays Jamal, the gay son of mogul Luscious (Terrence Howard) and his ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P.Henson). He and his two brothers are in a competition of a sort to take over their father's music and entertainment business after he's been diagnosed with ALS.

Jamal lives with his culinary school student boyfriend and is struggling whether or not to come out publicly.


Chuck Hodes/FOX

"It touched me so deeply because it was only the second episode," Smollett said of the fan letter. "So it must mean something to people. It's just an honor to bring that to life."

And then there are the celebrity fans. Smollett and I chatted at Universal Music Group's Grammy after party. Just the night before, he and Henson attended Clive Davis' super VIP pre-Grammy party at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

"It was incredible," Smollett beamed. "L.A. Reid came over and so did Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy. We were at the same table as Joni Mitchell. These are the same people I grew up idolizing so to be breathing the same air as them is stupid. It makes no sense. It's unbelievable."

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