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'Empire' season finale fan react: Rating the music from 'Who I Am'

Season 1 | Episode 12 | “Who I Am” | Aired Mar 18, 2015

The first half of Empire‘s season finale, “Die But Once,” was all about keeping viewers on the edge of their seats with shocking revelations and snappy retorts. The show’s second hour, however, shifts the focus to the music—while still leaving room for tweetable moments, of course (Rhonda killed Vernon!).

“Who I Am” features an unprecedented six performances, most of which take place during the momentous Lucious Lyon Sound concert. In addition to Lucious’ own sons honoring him with new music and an updated take on his past hits, an unlikely trio of real-life musicians also took the stage: Charles Hamilton, Rita Ora, and Juicy J.

The night started out on shaky ground, but the music quickly gained momentum. Here’s how they all did:

“NY Raining”—Charles Hamilton and Rita Ora

Though “NY Raining” is actually Hamilton’s song and only features Ora, Empire chooses to make this performance all about the bigger name: Ora, not Hamilton, makes the decision to drop out of the concert after Cookie is booted from the company. Still, props to the show for featuring an up-and-coming rapper. Hamilton has yet to put out a full album, but he’s won over critics in the past, and he’s currently in the midst of a comeback.

Empire’s “NY Raining” sounds pretty much identical to the original. Ora does little to challenge her current standing as Queen of Generic Pop, but her high, breathy tone is well matched to the song, and her smile, which you can hear through the hook, is infectious. Hamilton, for his part, also doesn’t take the track to any place that’s particularly original or unexpected.

“Come Away with Me”—Jamal Lyon

There’s sampling, and then there’s ripping other songs off. Empire has skirted this line before, but rarely so blatantly as it does in “Come Away with Me.” Is this meant to be a reimagining of “Ghetto Superstar,” or a copycat? Does Jamal think that if he replaces the word “place” with “world,” no one will notice that their choruses are nearly the same? “Come Away with Me” has plenty of other issues to sort through. For starters, in an episode in which Jamal scream-sings “So what, I’m gay!” and has sex with his boyfriend on his father’s desk, why does his first performance at the concert (certainly the biggest of his career) revolve entirely around singing the praises of the female anatomy?

The second half of the performance—which, thankfully didn’t make it to broadcast—devolves into the artist panting under his breath and making halfhearted attempts at a series of runs that go nowhere. There’s also some jerky electronica noises thrown into the mix, because why save a bad thing? We’re lucky Jamal is featured on two more tracks in “Who I Am,” because “Come Away with Me” would have been a poor legacy to leave season one.

“What the DJ Says”—Jamal Lyon and Hakeem Lyon

The first truly enjoyable performance of the finale’s second half came, fittingly, from a Lyon duet. Jamal and Hakeem often sound best when they’re paired together (and I’d love to see them explore the idea of a collaborative album at some point down the road). On “What the DJ Says” (not to be confused with Lucious’ original, “What the DJ Spins,” which we heard in “The Outspoken King”), both brothers come prepared, with energy, hype, and certainty rolling off them in waves. Jamal puts up a valiant effort, but this song belongs to Hakeem’s magnetic confidence. “What the DJ Says” might (just barely) beat out “No Apologies” for the rapper’s best performance of the season—though that first song does a better job of balancing the talents of the two artists.

“Whatever Makes You Happy”—Michelle White and Juicy J

If only all gospel artists could have second careers as pop powerhouses, radio would be a much happier place. It’s completely ridiculous to imagine that Lucious would have plucked Michelle from obscurity the day before the most important concert of his career, then given her a starring role in said event. But who cares about little things like believability when the results are so much fun?

I’m running out of ways to praise Michelle’s vocals, so I’ll just say that “Whatever Makes You Happy,” the funkiest and most grooving of her three songs this season, could easily power a small city, if we could harness its sonic energy. Juicy J’s rap only added to the festivities—though I will say I’m disappointed not to hear even one Jeffrey Dahmer reference from him.

“Nothing to Lose”—Jamal Lyon

The first version of “Nothing to Lose,” which Jamal and Lucious came up with while duking it out on a visit to their old house in Philly, was not a perfect song. But it had a lot of interesting components. Not all of them worked together, but they made for an exciting listen. In Jamal’s more polished version, there’s a lot less to take note of. That ever-present drum machine he loves so much is back again, beating out a steady, monotonous rhythm. Now that he and daddy have made nice (and he’s got the Empire), there’s no desperation or intensity to characterize his voice.

The production does have an alluring, alien sound, but nothing can make up for the fact that Patti LaBelle (who was featured on the song during the broadcast) was cut from the studio version. The only explanation I can think of is that something fell apart during contract or royalty negotiations, so she only agreed to appear on the show, not the soundtrack (that’s purely speculative, by the way). But whatever the reason, I’m feeling the loss of her voice on this song.

“Power of the Empire”—Hakeem Lyon

The final song of season one, “Power of the Empire,” is a fitting conclusion to a show devoted to scheming, power struggles, and duplicitous plots. “I’ll do anything for the power”—has there ever been a more appropriate chorus?

Empire will return for season two next fall.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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