Taraji P. Henson and the 'Empire' producers on keeping Cookie fresh and guest star Mariah Carey in Season 3

Taraji P. Henson and the 'Empire' producers on keeping Cookie fresh and guest star Mariah Carey in Season 3
Ilene Chaiken, left, Taraji P. Henson and Sanaa Hamri at the Television Critics Assn. press tour on Monday in Beverly Hills. (Richard Shotwell / Invision/Asociated Press)

If anyone could give Cookie Lyon a run for her money, it's Mariah Carey.

Following on the heels of the announcement that the pop superstar would guest on the upcoming third season of "Empire," star Taraji P. Henson and producers Ilene Chaiken and Sanaa Hamri fielded questions about Carey's recent work on the show during Fox's portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour on Monday.


"She was great," said Henson. "I mean, she's fabulous. She's beautiful to look at. Wish I could wear a leotard like that and those heels. She brings a sense of what Mariah brings to the music industry. She brought it to our show. I'm grateful that she spent time with little ol' us."

Carey is among several famous guest stars appearing in the third season of the music industry/family soap, including rappers Birdman and French Montana and Broadway/film/TV veteran Taye Diggs.

"Who knew Taye Diggs was so funny," said Henson. "I enjoy working with him, and he's easy on the eyes."

Chaiken wouldn't confirm that Diggs' character is a love interest for Cookie, only teasing, "He would certainly like to be."

In other Season 3 news, Cookie will be leaving Lucius, or at least trying to, said Chaiken. "Whether or not he lets her," said Henson, is an open question.

But the story line will open up new avenues for Henson to keep the outsized character fresh.

"Cookie is going to really try to draw those lines," said Chaiken. "She will have her own agency within the story. She fights for her own agency within 'Empire,' and she's fighting for her life, for her opportunities to start over. But, as we said, the stories always come back to the family, and there's no getting away from it."

"I just look at her like I look at myself or any human," said Henson on the changes in the character that has brought her two consecutive Emmy nominations for lead actress in a drama.  "We're constantly evolving and growing and learning new things about ourselves. So that's how I handle Cookie. Just because she's a fictional character doesn't mean she's got it. You know, she's still growing … you've got to remember she was locked up for 17 years. She has a lot of catching up to do."

Don't expect Cookie to evolve into a singer anytime soon, however. As fans of her turn in "Hustle & Flow" are aware, Henson is a strong vocalist.

"We try to stay true to the original premise of the show," said Chaiken who noted that just about every member of the cast is a gifted singer. "Cookie has the best ear in the business. She's all about music. She's steeped in music, but she's not a performer. And she sings with her family, but she doesn't sing professionally."

"Otherwise," added Henson, "she would have ratted Lucious out and stayed with the boys."

"Empire" returns Sept. 21.