Prepare for the rise of an Empire in 2016!
Fox's smash musical drama was honored as the opening show at The Paley Center for Media's annual PaleyFest event in Los Angeles, and fans were gifted with an up-close and personal conversation with the Lyon family.
The panel was moderated by Entertainment Tonight's very own Kevin Frazier, and the always candid host kicked off the event with a hard-hitting question: Empire took a bit of a "left turn" during it's second season -- so what happened?
"What happened was it was growing pains," Empire's creator and executive producer, Lee Daniels, said of the ratings rough patch in the first half of its sophomore season.
The primetime soap opera hit a high of almost 18 million viewers in its season one finale, but episodes in the new season have dropped as low as nine million with criticism over storylines.
"I think it would've happened to any show -- any big show -- and we still remain number one," he explained, causing the packed crowd at the Dolby Theater to cheer.
"We're learning," Daniels continued. "It's just a process, and it's just trial and error. At the end of the day, we came back. It's really learning about everybody and trying things out, and how do you make greatness without testing?"
Daniels went on to admit that several networks turned Empire down before Fox said yes to the sexy, surprising hip-hop drama -- and clearly their decision paid off. Empire was the highest-rated premiere for the network in three years, and the show's audience continued to grow each week for the 10-episode first season.
"Y'all were nobodies last year," Daniels joked on stage with his cast. "And now look, after a year, you're [just as big as] movies stars!"
Daniels revealed that he feels "blessed" each day knowing that Empire has become such a cultural smash in today's society. "It's an honor to see people of color who are not only [on TV] in the homes of Americans, but in Brazil and Spain and Italy," he said. "They're getting a sneak peek into our world and being a part of the African American experience."
The big screen director also addressed Hollywood's diversity issues, especially after the #OscarsSoWhite
drama was candidly discussed by Academy Awards host Chris Rock just two weeks earlier in the very same venue.
"I don't have time to deal with racism. If I thought, 'Yes, am I delusional to say that there's not racism in America?' Look at Donald Trump," he said causing a roar of applause from his cast and the crowd. "The minute I embrace it, it becomes real to me and I don’t have time."
"I don't wanna hear, 'Woe is me, they ain't treating me right,'" he continued. "You know what? Treat yourself right."
Empire returns Wednesday, March 30, at 9 p.m. on Fox.