Empire is paying homage in its fourth season.
The cast and producers were on hand during the Fox portion of the TCA summer press tour and revealed that the fourth episode of the upcoming season will feature music by the late pop singer, which is a departure from most episodes that feature music original to Empire.
"I might have to press out this curl, have to give you a real flip for a moment, but it'll be fun," Jussie Smollett told a small group of reporters after the show's panel. He explained that the episode is the brainchild of executive producer Sanaa Hamri, who is also responsible for several of Prince's music videos.
Season four will also find the Lyons dealing with Lucious' amnesia as a result of the casino exploding at the end of season three, with Demi Moore reappearing as Lucious' creepy nurse, Phylicia Rashad back as Diana DuBois, and Forest Whitaker joining the show as a musician and producer.
The panel confirmed that Whitaker will be showing off his singing skills on the show.
"We knew that he was very musical and we asked him whether he wanted to sing on the show," executive producer Ilene Chaiken said. "We let him guide us. He was really excited about singing. He's playing a musician, a producer, somebody who's integrally involved in the music in the world of the show."
But producers were quick to point out, the show isn't about the guest stars, a lesson they said they learned from fans after the second season.
"We lose who it is that the fans want to watch," Lee Daniels said. "They're obsessed with the Lyons, they're obsessed with the family…So we focus really more on the family and that's a safe bet."
In addition to a Prince homage, Empire will have another first: Smollett is stepping behind the camera and directing the 14th episode of the season.
"It's the first episode after the break, which is good because everybody's going to come back and be all rested and really nice, I hope…I've been shadowing Sanna very closely and basically calling up every director that I know like John Singleton, Debbie Allen and Mario Van Peebles and just being like, ‘Please what can you tell me?' They just give me amazing advice, even down to shot advice. Just what to do. Directing as a television guest director is very different than directing film…there's certain rules and protocol…I'm so excited to start with Empire, my family. I feel like I'll be taken care of," Smollett told press after the panel.
Empire returns Wednesday, September 27 at 8 p.m. on Fox.