Jamal Lyon is a main character in the television series, Empire. He is one of the sons of Lucious and Cookie Lyon. He is portrayed by actor Jussie Smollett, and he first appears in Pilot. Lucious named him as his successor in the season one finale “Who I Am“, and is now the Vice-Chairman of Empire Entertainment as well as the interim CEO while his father is incarcerated.
Before the Pilot
Jamal had shown signs of being feminine when he was a child, and was thrown in the trash by hisfather, who did not want a son like that. His mother, Cookie, stood up for him, but after her incarceration, he grew up without her for 17 years, during which his father often beat him in an attempt to toughen him up to “make him into a man”.
Jamal had released a self-titled album nearly ten years ago, at age 18, however it did not have wide commercial success outside of Williamsburg or Berkeley.
Jamal is introduced playing piano while performing Live In The Moment, alongside his brother, Hakeem. Lucious announces that both Jamal and Hakeem will be releasing albums this year, Meanwhile, he and his brothers arrive at their father‘s house, as he will be “competing” to take over his father’s throne as CEO of Empire Entertainment. However, Jamal, revealed to be gay, doubts that he will be chosen prior to their relationship and the African-American homophobia in the community. He refuses to be involved in the music industry because of it. When Cookie surprisingly visits Jamal’s apartment, he is shocked, especially since Cookie doesn’t know about his relationship with his boyfriend, Michael. A flashback shows Jamal visiting his mother in jail as a child. Cookie views Jamal as “different,” but shows her acceptance of him regardless. ====
It is evident that Jamal’s relationship with his father is tense. When Lucious calls him to arrive at the record company, Lucious claims that his sexuality is a choice. Jamal, unsure of releasing an album, feels distant from his father. Meanwhile, a flashback depicts Jamal dressing in heels and shows it to his family downstairs. Lucious chases after him in anger for dressing that way, and Cookie attempts to stop him. This flashback continues once Jamal performs Good Enough to an audience. Lucious puts Jamal in a trash can until Cookie stops him. His song describes his estranged relationship with Lucious, feeling distant and that he tries to live up to his standards.
Cookie wants to help Jamal in his career, as she requests to Lucious who eventually and rudely denies. Jamal refuses to share his music to the world. Jamal and Hakeem discuss Cookie and Lucious, where Jamal denies that if Cookie manages him while Lucious manages Hakeem, there will be conflict between them. Jamal helps Hakeem with his music after struggling to record songs that Lucious wrote for him, but when Lucious doesn’t acknowledge him for it, Jamal decides to accept Cookie’s plan to make him a star.
After Jamal moves into a smaller, uncomfortable apartment with Michael, it is revealed that Jamal is suffering from writer’s block with his music.
Jamal is a gay character in Empire, he serves as a person who is aware of the homophobia in African-American communities. Jamal doesn’t seem to abide by society’s views on the music industry and how it is set up, showing why he doesn’t want to release an album. He, thus far, has a strong relationship with Cookie, who envisions his stardom despite his sexuality. His relationship with his father Lucious is however, different. Throughout season 1, his father’s acceptance of him soon leads him through a personality change which suspiciously begins to reflect that of Lucious
Michael and Jamal are were dating each other, as well as living together. Michael left Jamal, packing his bags, saying that he “is in love with his music” – Jamal denied saying he loves him. Michael says “No, I love you.”
Jamal and Lucious are father and son. Lucious looks down at Jamal due to his sexuality. Jamal has tried appealing to his father who always shuts him down causing a loathsome relationship between the two. Jamal is very much like his father but he does not share his father’s ambition of success or the willingness to burn anything or anyone for it.