BY: GIBSON JOHNS
"Am I being fired?"
Speaking at the "Empire" fall finale viewing party at the Gansevoort Hotel in New York City, Jussie Smollett remembered the hilarious moment that the show's creator, Lee Daniels, delivered the news that he was going to be the new face of Pepsi, joining the likes of Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Beyoncé.
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"[He] sat me down and said, 'I need to talk to you,'" Smollett recounted -- that's when he asked if he was being taken off the show "because no one is safe on 'Empire.' He said, 'Well, you're not being fired, but we want Jamal to take a sabbatical.'"
Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on FOX's hit show, then joked if he should start auditioning for NBC's "The Wiz: Live" now that he was going to be off the show. But Daniels was just kidding around, so that wouldn't be necessary.
"He was quiet for a second and then he was like, 'Stupid b***h you ain't being sent on a sabbatical -- you're the new face of Pepsi!'"
Watch Jussie Smollett announce his partnership with Pepsi:
Smollett's partnership with Pepsi goes beyond being a spokesman for the brand in real life: The deal involved a multi-episode story arc in which his character, Jamal, also creates a song and commercial. In some ways, as Smollett said, "exists in a parallel universe."
Being chosen to represent such an iconic brand was a humbling experience for Smollett, who noted that such a partnership was crucial in conveying Jamal's rising star in the fictional music industry represented in "Empire."
Watch Jamal Lyon's Pepsi commercial:
"In order to really create a space for fans of the show to see that Jamal is going to the next level of his career, Pepsi is that way of getting that across because we all know that from Michael to Madonna to Beyoncé to Britney -- everybody that they sign are superstars."
Sitting on the panel at the intimate viewing party, Smollett was funny, down-to-earth, and sentimental. He recalled the day that he direct-messaged Daniels on Instagram saying, "Can I please play Jamal?," and expressed his wonderment at how quickly his career has escalated over a "year and some change" to a point where he has his own Pepsi commercial.
His ascendence truly is astounding, and we can't help but feel like it's only just begun.
See more photos of Jussie Smollett: