Jussie Smollett’s Career and How He Got Famous

Sometimes it seems like stars just pop up on our screens out of nowhere and become prominent figures. But most of the time, those celebrities have actually been working tirelessly behind the scenes before they ever get their big breaks.

After landing a role on FOX’s Empire, it may seem like Jussie Smollett became a breakout star. But in reality, the actor has been working in the industry for years.


Early Career

Smollett was born on June 21, 1983, in Santa Rosa, California. He fell in love with acting at an early age and began to pursue it. He landed one of his earliest big roles in 1992. Anyone remember a movie called The Mighty Ducks? Smollett played Terry Hall in the classic movie.

The film “was a great experience,” he told PEOPLE magazine of the early role.

The next year, he also appeared in the TV miniseries, Queen. He played the role of the main character’s son.

The jobs continued to roll in and in 1994, Smollett and his siblings starred in a sitcom called On Our Own. They portrayed siblings whose parents had died and left them orphaned. While acting in the sitcom, he also appeared in North, starring Elijah Wood.


A Break from the Spotlight

After On Our Own ended in 1995, Smollett decided to take a break from acting. From 1995 to 2011, he didn’t do much in the entertainment world.

He did eventually return in 2012, releasing an EP called Poisoned Hearts Club. He also starred in an independent film called The Skinny and even made an appearance on The Mindy Project.

Fast forward to 2014, and the roles for Smollett kept pouring in.

He appeared in Born to Race: Fast Track,  Ask Me Anything, and the TV show, Revenge.



In 2015, Smollett started his biggest role to date as Jamal Lyon on Empire.

His portrayal of Jamal, the gay son of a music giant who doesn’t support him, left audiences stunned and enamored. The character even inspired some.

“I received a letter from a kid that said Jamal gave him the courage to come out to his parents,” Smollett told Vanity Fair in an interview. “It touched me deeply and it’s an honor to help people.”

After playing the role of Jamal, people began to wonder about the actor’s sexual orientation in real life. For a while, Smollett avoided giving too many details about his personal life but finally came out on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” he told DeGeneres. “I don’t own a closet, I got a dresser, but I don’t have a closet…I have a home and that is my responsibility to protect that home.”


Record Deal

After Smollett showcased his amazing singing voice on Empire, record labels started to take notice.

Shortly after his appearance on the show, he landed a deal with Columbia Records. Unfortunately, the music contract wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

He eventually walked out of the deal.

“I was sitting in a room full of old straight white men, playing them the stuff that I’d put my heart and soul and my pain and my joy in and they’re telling me what piece of that should be heard by the people that it actually was created for,” he told The Associated Press. “I’m like, ‘Well that doesn’t feel like freedom.’”

Smollett eventually put out an album through his own independent label, Music of Sound. The album Sum of My Music was released on March 2, 2018.

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