Boob(s On Your) Tube: Meet The Queer Contestants on “Top Chef”

Santa Claus is coming to town and stealing away all our teevee, so Boob(s On Your) Tube is shifting back to a weekly column — posting on Fridays — until the winter television hiatus is over. Next week, Intern Karly is going to give us a peek at a handful of new queer web series that might carry you through December, and Top Chef is back with potentially two queer contestants, so that will sustain us for a while. In the meantime, let’s talk about the midseason finale of Empire and meet the chefs!


Top Chef

Thursdays on Bravo at 10:00 p.m

topchef

Top Chef is back for its 13th season, and after the 12th season success of lesbian chef Melissa King  and the first season success of lesbian chef Anita Lo (who cooked the last State Dinner at the White House!), they’ve recruited two new queer female contestants this year. We’ve got 37-year-old Bostonian Karen Akunowicz. She describes herself as “a Queer Fierce Femme” who “loves yoga and the lamb sandwich at Flour Bakery.” (You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.) And we’ve got Filipino New Yorker Frances Tariga-Weshnak, the only sous chef in the competition. She speaks six languages and has the most amazing gold shoes I’ve ever seen in my life. (You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.) She’s very funny; she said my favorite thing in the whole premiere episode: “People don’t understand the flavor profile of bitter melon, but it’s bitter melon. Duh? It’s bitter.” After a two-part season premiere, they’re both still standing, and I’m excited to see what they cook as they traipse up and down California trying to escape the ire of food bloggers and the doom of Padma’s side-eye.


Empire

Wednesdays on Fox at 9:00 p.m.

Written by Carolyn Wysinger

Episode 209: “Sinned Against”

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Get me Ilene Chaiken. Now.

Empire continues to be the place where social justice issues go to die and since I’m doing two recaps at one time we have plenty of room to talk about all the madness.

Cookie and her bourgie ass sister, Candace, are in Philly looking for their sister, Carol, who is out in the streets on a drug bender. I love how Empire always starts right at the brightest spot of the episode. Taraji P. Henson and Vivica Fox on screen together is the best decision Empire has ever made.

Candace: Laretha! I don’t do prisons. I’m definitely not doing a crack house.
Cookie: Would you stop actin like Diahann Carroll, heffa? You aint been livin’ in the suburbs with that white man all ya life!

Best read ever televised, I swear!

Empire has brought a new pop heiress, Sky Summers (played by Alicia Keys), on board to become Jamal’s duet partner. From the beginning I have not trusted this Sky character. Mostly, I’m scared of how the writers are going to use her. (Spoiler alert: I have good reason to be concerned.)

Cookie and Candace aren’t having any luck tracking down Carol, so Cookie makes a call to one of her friends from prison. They agree to meet her at her bakery and it turns about to be yet another celebrity guest appearance, this time by Rosie O’Donnell. It’s becoming obvious that the Empire crew spent more time rounding up celebrity guests than working on a solid script. The sisters find Carol and take her out for a meal, after she throws up all over Candace’s shoes. While they are at dinner they convince Carol to get off of the streets and debate which sister she’ll live with. Ultimately she chooses Cookie, but when Cookie leaves them alone to make a call, Candace reminds Carol of something she did while Cookie was in prison that would block this “Sister Sedge reunion.” At this point I’m cracking up because most of the people that watch Empire don’t know who Diahann Carroll and Sister Sledge are. All this damn blackness on network TV!

Lucious is really pulling out the stops doing things for Andre and his new baby. The future of the Lyon Legacy. He buys Andre a brand new six-bedroom house and declares that he is finally done testing him. It makes me so sad that Andre is so desperate for his father’s approval that he trusts everything that lying snake says.

Now to the biggie. Empire has tried unsuccessfully to address social issues multiple times. This has included throwing in a gorilla at a Free Killer Lucious rally while also trying to create a Black Lives Matter Buzz, and a terrible “homage” to the Black Panthers while rapping about getting money and flirting with the issue of black women and suicide. I guess it’s only fitting that they would have Jamal and Sky co-write what we are calling the All Lives Matter Anthem. I need to know who the hell thought this was a smart thing to do? Who thought this was okay? Certainly it can’t be the same writer who wrote the Black Lives Matter episodes. Or maybe this just proves that Empire does not give a damn they just want to create any kind of buzz that they can.

This is the point where I begin to be truly over Empire because they are not here for the community that they claim they are trying to highlight. Maybe they never said that was their purpose. Maybe we just thought it was. Oh, but it gets better. Keep reading.

Boo Boo Kitty has become real buddy-buddy with Andre’s wife, Kelly, in a very single white female kind of way. When she is not hanging out with Kelly talking about babies, she is at home obsessing over Hakeem and his girlfriend, Laura; watching them on Periscope and cutting out their pictures. This bird has officially flown over the cuckoo’s nest. Kelly is so happy to have someone in the family that gives a damn about her she doesn’t see the danger looming around the corner.

Lucious needs Cookie to sign over her rights to his early music so that he can buy Swift Stream. I am so happy that she tells his ass no. A little history about black music. The reason that so many older artists such as George Clinton and not-so-old artists like New Edition have to spend all of their time on the road touring: They don’t own the rights to any of the music that you love so much. You have a legend like George Clinton, who is one of the most sampled artists in hip-hop history, and he doesn’t get any of that money because about 20 years ago he signed the rights to his music over, thinking he would be able to buy it back easily, but that never happened. This is the story of many black artists over the last 50 years. So I’m glad that Cookie tells Lucious no. We will later learn that they have already made a decision that will put the Lyon legacy in jeopardy.

I wish they would stop playing this Hakeem diss song. It is officially the worst diss track recorded ever!

Cookie finally finds out that Laz is one of the dudes that kidnapped Hakeem after Lucious tracked out the gang he runs with. I still don’t believe an OG like Cookie fell for the okie doke but okay. Cookie and Hakeem leave Laz to Lucious and his boys to be dealt with.

Then the whole world stopped. Jamal kissed fucking Sky Summers. Empire broke the internet again as folks cried, “Is Jamal straight now?” As one of my friends put it, “Did these mfers simultaneously give us an #allllivesmatter anthem, while setting black queerness back a decade?” Yes. Yes these mfers did.

Episode 210: “Et Tu, Brute?”

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Welcome to Peggy Peabody’s coming out party!

It’s the ASA AWARDS! The fake American Music Awards, y’all. A great excuse for Empire to have even more guest appearances.

Hakeem and Cookie are dealing with a crisis as Cookie’s Cookout is falling apart. You know, with Laz missing and all. Meanwhile, Cookie has promised her hookup, Pepper (Rosie O’Donnell), that she will bring Hakeem and Laura to the prison where they served time to perform for Family Day. Cookie also says she has a friend in prison who is an amazing rapper. The real deal.

Empire is hosting an ASA nominations party at Leviticus. Jamal has already grabbed the ASA nomination for Best R&B artist but Hakeem loses Best Rap Artist to Freda Gatz. Cookie is, of course, disgusted and Lucious notes that Hakeem may have won the battle but Freda is winning the war. As she should be! Hakeem sucks like seriously. In the real world this would not even be up for to debate. (I’m gonna stop wasting Autosraddle space saying it.)

At the party Jamal and Summer perform this damn All Lives Matter anthem. Ugh. I am disgusted by this. I haven’t looked at the track listing for the Empire soundtrack but I assume this song is on there and the fact that this mess is going out into the world disturbs my soul. Good, bad or indifferent, Empire is a huge platform and them having black artists singing an All Lives Matter song shows a huge lack of understanding of the BLM movement and what Black Lives Matter really means. The student of black history in me is also mad the lyrics of the song include a line about Malcolm X rolling over in his grave, presumably because we aren’t valuing all lives. Um, no. Malcolm is somewhere cheering at all of the students and activists that are standing up to white supremacy and fighting for the lives up black people. What he is not doing is laying in his grave declaring that All Lives Matter. Oh, and the fact that whoever wrote this thought it was empowering and pro-black. That incenses me too.

Which brings us to another important issue. Radio personality Charlemagne the God interviews Jamal and Sky about their song and he causes all kinds of feels when he questions Sky’s blackness. Pause. This is loaded with so many of issues. We can start with the fact that Sky is supposed to be a huge pop artist. Historically, black female pop artists have had to contend with this idea that in order to crossover they have to be as white as they can possibly be. Let’s put that out there. In the ’60s you had an artist like Aretha Franklin, who Motown would not sign because she sounded too black. In the ’80s you had Clive Davis being very open about using tricks to make Whitney Houston’s image whiter. This included her wearing a butt-length wig in one of her videos. And Beyonce. I’m not going to get into Beyoncé here. I’m not stupid. So this idea of Sky being called out for not being black is not as unbelievable as you may think. It’s an industry standard. It does make me nervous that they throw in the fact that Sky is actually biracial and accuse her of using that as a smokescreen against being identified as black. This is way beyond Empire‘s pay grade.

Earlier in the episode Lucious walked in on Jamal and Sky talking about their kiss, which apparently wasn’t just a kiss. Apparently what we didn’t see was Jamal and Sky actually hooking up. Lucious walks up to Jamal with love and admiration in his eyes and declares that Sky fixed him. He is so happy and proud. PAUSE! I have about 100 issues with this scene but it’s really tricky. We can’t act like there aren’t homophobic parents out there waiting for their queer kid to be fixed by someone of the opposite sex. Parents like Lucious are an unfortunate reality. But you know what’s also a part of reality? The fact that Empire is the first major broadcast network show to have a black gay character in a starring position. You have so many different things that you can do what this character. Instead you go down the Jamal-is-being-fixed-by-Sky road. And, one again, Empire is not responsible enough to handle it. Yes, it’s a drama and they do things to further the dramatic storyline but no. Just no.

Back at the ASA nominations party, things are further complicated when Charlemagne starts asking Jamal curious questions about what would happen if all of his gay fans found out he was hooking up with a woman. Does Charlemagne know something? We don’t know and we don’t care. What happens next is what’s important. Jamal proceeds to go on a rant about not being limited by labels. Okay, stop. Wait. Stop. Listen, it may be above my pay grade to explain why all of these things are not okay in the world of Empire. This is an issue about visibility. This show is telling a story about a black queer character in a way that it has never been told before and the reality is that there is a huge community of black queer folks who were looking up to the image and are now watching as the writers decide to pander to stereotypical ideas about black gay men. Disappointing is an understatement.

Back at Empire, Andre found a way for Lucious to raise the capitol to merge with Swift Stream by selling off parts of the Empire Corporation. Mimi comes to Lucious with the concerns of the board. They are upset that Lucious didn’t notify them of his decision to sell Empire assets. Lucious’ God complex comes out as he declares that he doesn’t need their permission to move the pieces on his chess board. Oh, Lucious. They don’t have the show UnSung on your TV, do they? This never ever works out for a black artist. Ever.

So Mimi is recording her whole conversation with Lucious. She calls for an emergency meeting of the board to remove Lucious as the CEO of Empire. Lucious is in shock because earlier he noted that he thought they were on the same page business wise and also as play partners. Yup. Lucious is banking on Sky fixing Jamal while he is trying to fix Mimi all the while looking to make money off of his new “son” Freda Gatz. No other response to that is necessary.

With the board vote looming Lucious, Andre and Thursty set out to sway they board members to vote for keeping Lucious. The final two board votes lie with Cookie and Hakeem who just finished putting on a show at Cookie’s former prison home. Cookie can’t go because she wants to stay behind to see her friend Jazzy who we later learn is DaBrat. My black queer heart will not be able to contain my joy if they let Da Brat rap on Empire. Hakeem doesn’t want to take part in the vote but Cookie convinces him that they can’t let anyone steal their legacy.

Before the vote, Empire holds yet another press conference to announce the merger with Swift Stream. Mimi’s wife joins them at the press conference and guess who it is? It is Hakeem’s ex, the fine ass cougar Camilla. Lucious’ mouth falls open. He hasn’t seen Camilla since he bribed her to leave Hakeem alone. He has reason to be afraid. Camilla visits Hakeem, who obviously still has a thing for her. Between Camilla and Anika, it’s clear Hakeem has a thing for older women. I’m not mad at him at all. But when you pair it with the way he has been interacting with Cookie, you also see that what he really wants is a woman of distinction that adores and believes in him.

Camilla explains the reasons that she left and that she never took Lucious’ money. Hakeem doesn’t believe her but she tells him to check with his mother. In Hakeem’s mind everyone knew that Camilla never really left him. Now he doesn’t trust Lucious or Cookie.

The time comes for the board to vote and none of the board members that Lucious tried to sway go his way. The final vote comes down to Hakeem, who just spent the night hooking up with Camilla. Do I really have to say which way the vote went? Not only does the board vote Lucious out, but Mimi appoints Camilla as the new CEO of Empire. Lucious loses it. He has been proven to be a mortal man. Not a god at all! The Empire is in the hands of someone else and it’s all because of his own son. The son he tried to publicly humiliate mind you.

Then while all of this is going on somebody pushes pregnant Kelly down the stairs at her home. I wonder who that somebody was.

This fall finale gave me the damn bubble guts. I am not here for Empire and their apparent lack of understanding and/or care for the communities that they claim to be representing. My friend was wrong. They aren’t setting black queerness back a decade. Try two decades. I mean yes it’s a drama but, they are leaving me with a terrible feeling.

Things I fully expect to happen in Spring: Kelly and her baby have died and crazy ass Boo Boo Kitty goes after Laura. She tries to come for Camilla and it doesn’t work out and she ends up in the crazy house. Lucious tries to brand Jamal and Sky as a couple. Cookie gets Da Brat out of jail and we get a battle for the ages between her and Freda Gatz. Okay, maybe that’s just me wishing.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 854 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. Hey you guys. Yes, all of you. Something is very wrong with me:

    I love superheroes, I loved Buffy (and they’ve totes got the same eyebrows/nose), I love feminism, I love television, and I DON’T love Jessica Jones.

    And I am trying. Oh, how I am trying! I think I am about five episodes in. It’s something about the pacing and the general chemistry? I am trying so hard to stick with it but I am having a really hard time caring about these characters, and it’s bumming me out, because everyone I know is so enthusiastic.

    I’ll stick it out. It took me three tries to get into Lost Girl, after all. But, I mean…does it pick up at all?

    Sigh.

    • Maybe try slowing down? Maybe it’s because you’re binge-watching it that you’re finding it hard to care about the characters? Maybe try focusing on Jess and Trish’s friendship – that to me was one of the best parts of the show. Maybe stop trying to love the lesbians, because they are sort of a boring and distracting C plot. It’s not really about the lesbians.

      I don’t want to say it get’s better, because I found it pretty great from the get go, but I will say that later episodes delve a lot deeper into Jess and Trish’s backgrounds and their relationship, which could get you more excited about them as characters. But also later episodes get A LOT darker and more violent, (and there are a few instances of choosing shock value storytelling over character development)

      I will say though, if you still don’t like it after episode 8, you might try quitting after that, because if that episode doesn’t do it for you, probably nothing that comes after it will.

    • Also: The reason you may be having trouble caring about the characters could be because of the stingy way the show doles out exposition and backstory. It’s hard to care about someone who you know nothing about. If that’s the case, don’t worry, because a LOT gets filled in in later episodes.

  2. Ooo.. if Top Chef is anything remotely like MasterChef: The Professionals, I’m there. ^_^ The sheer skill and creativity on show in the latter is always such a delight, even if it always makes me yearn for a kitchen with some actual workspace..

  3. The stuff they’re doing to Jamal is exactly the thing that happens so regularly to lesbian characters and so rarely to gay men that it’s kind of shocking. No less offensive or angering though. Yuck.

  4. As I’ve mentioned in past comments, I gave up on Empire earlier this season after finding their invocation of Black Lives Matter to be more exploitative than affirming…and with every recap I read, I feel more vindicated by that decision.

    (Also, Wanda Sykes was a guest start on blackish</em< this week and it was great.)

  5. Member that one time when Padma talked about the female contestants she’d like to sleep with when asked which male contestants she’d like to sleep with during one of those post-season specials? Maybe they didn’t say *sleep with* but.

  6. Ugh, I’ve been meaning to catch on Empire but I’m not sure I’ll bother.

    Also I hate what’s happening with Anika. Yes, she’s terrible, but she’s also a smart and talented woman and it sucks that she’s going down in flames.

  7. Looks like PBS will be airing the Call the Midwife Christmas special on actual Christmas (my affiliate has it at 9pm). I’ve been holding out for this episode before I let myself be totally crushed by Patsy & Delia’s story. I was devoted to this show from the beginning, and no character has had an easy path to happiness, but you know. I’m anxious.

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