Getting to know Empire newcomer Katlynn Simone


After a whirlwind season, Katlynn Simone chats with Culturess about her role as Treasure on Fox’s Empire. The triple-threat singer, dancer and actress talks balancing a budding music and acting career as well as which women inspire her the most.

The first time viewers of FOX’s hit series Empire met Katlynn Simone as Treasure, she was a social worker at the prison where Andre was serving time for the murder of Anika Calhoun. Minutes into her debut on the show, Treasure opened her mouth and sang, letting us know she wasn’t going anywhere and would make her mark on the show, which was just renewed for a sixth and final season.

And make her mark she has. In just one season, Katlynn Simone has turned Treasure into the character some people love and others love to hate. After ditching the fledgling Lyon Family Management for the Giselle-run Empire, Treasure had to return to the Lyons with her tail between her legs when they regained control of the company.

In the last half of the season alone, Treasure started a feud with reigning Empire queen Tiana, and barely avoided Cookie’s wrath after being caught in a compromising situation with Lucious.

EMPIRE: L-R: Katlynn Simone and Terrence Howard in the “Steal From the Thief”. Photo: Chuck Hodes/FOX.

“One thing that I have loved about Treasure that I feel like I can relate to is her [hunger] and the hard want to have her dream come true,” Simone said when I caught up with her a few weeks ago after shooting wrapped for Empire’s fifth season.

Raised around music in Houston, Texas, Simone learned early in life that she wanted to pursue the arts. Simone says her first encounter with her passion came through her grandfather’s record collection.

“I would just sit and listen to all of the old school music all day long,” she remembered. Despite her affinity for music and a singing voice her family noticed early on, Simone was very shy as a child. “[I] wouldn’t sing for anyone.”

Simone’s mother used the arts to break her out of her shell by enrolling her at the local Ensemble Theater in Houston. After realizing she enjoyed acting, Simone attended a performing arts high school with a dream of going to Juilliard. But as her acting career took off, she realized Los Angeles might be a better choice and decided to enroll in UCLA, where she earned her bachelor’s’ degree last year.

Simone has had roles in recognizable shows including Showtime’s Ray Donovan and The First Family on The CW. You might also remember Simone for her time on two smash-hit BET shows, The Game and The Quad. As a testament to her work ethic, Simone actually worked on The Quad (including traveling back and forth to Atlanta) while studying at UCLA.

“I really don’t know how I did it,” she said. “I remember not sleeping several nights. But one thing that I will say about UCLA that I am grateful for is the fact that between multiple independent studies when I was out of town in Atlanta, still having to write papers, and also having a great support system in the African American Studies Department there at UCLA, I got it done.”

EMPIRE: Guest star Katlynn Simone in the “Pay For Their Presumptions”. Photo: Chuck Hodes/FOX.

Shortly after graduation, Simone booked her role on Empire. Though her audition process was fairly traditional, Simone notes that she did have to sing and rap to prove she had the musical chops to play Treasure.

“I rap all the time but I’m definitely not a rapper so that was one part that I was kind of like, ‘Whew! All right, let me practice my rapping skills for a little bit before I go in there,’” she said of the experience.

Once she got the part of Treasure, the next step was trying not to be intimidated by working with actors like Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard (who are both Academy Award nominees).

“It was definitely a moment that I got a little nervous,” Simone said. She noted that her first two scenes were a one-on-one with Henson and then a scene with Henson and Howard where she also had to sing.

“But I will say that the most awesome part about this entire cast is just that welcoming aspect of Terrence and — Taraji, they both opened their arms to me and gave me advice.”

Simone says she’s formed friendships with others on the show like Chet Hanks, the son of Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, who plays rapper Blake, Ta’Rhonda Jones, who portrays Cookie’s assistant Porsha, and Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Empire exec and Jamal’s best friend Becky.

“We’re all part of a really big family on that set,” Simone said.

Guest star Katlynn Simone Smith and Serayah in the “Hot Blood, Hot Thoughts, Hot Deeds” episode of EMPIRE. Photo: Chuck Hodes/FOX

Simone also got to see Sidibe take her turn behind the camera when she directed Treasure and Tiana’s “Bring It On”-inspired performance in episode 13. The performance also included Simone’s first stunt, after Treasure falls off the stage during dress rehearsal.

“I had to have done that fall maybe 10 times — everyone else was like ‘are you okay — we’re only going to do it one more time’ — I was like ‘let’s do it again.'”

As season 5 winds down, there’s no word on what will become of Treasure, but Simone expects that she’ll continue to grow as an artist and as a person.

“If [Treasure] wants this stardom as bad as she’s been acting then I feel like she’ll do whatever it takes,” Simone said. “She’ll get right.”

In the meantime, while the cast is off from filming, Simone is gearing up to drop her own musical project. Simone mentioned that her upcoming release will be an EP and is more “neo-Soul, R&B” than her on-screen counterpart’s poppy tunes.

“I’m a little nervous. It’s a very vulnerable project for me, but I’m hoping if I’m just honest then people will appreciate that at least,” Simone told Culturess.

Katlynn Simone clearly has a lot on her plate, but she acknowledges that she hasn’t gotten where she is all on her own.

When asked who inspires her to accomplish so much, Simone was quick to give a shout out to her mom, who will graduate with two degrees of her own this year.

“I don’t think I know anyone that will work harder than my mom and I see a lot of traits that are similar to my mom in people that I look up to,” she said.

Simone also mentioned her Empire castmate, Taraji P. Henson, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama as other women she admires.

“People that know their worth” are people Simone admires. “People that work hard and people that think that they can do whatever they put their mind to.”

Simone, in many ways, already embodies that of which she’s inspired by — and for that alone, she’s worth watching as she continues on her journey.

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