(Glamour) – The music-biz drama Empire demolished TV ratings with its debut season: It’s the most watched new show in 23 years. The character fueling all of those record-breaking numbers? Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie Lyon, the ex-con boss-lady heroine whose wild antics have included producing hit singles, mooning a dinner party, and growling, “The streets ain’t made for everybody; that’s why they made sidewalks.”

Henson’s ambitious performance has not only won her a cult following—superfans call themselves Cookie Monsters—it’s also earned her an Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actress in a drama series. If she wins on September 20 (just three days before season two kicks off, on September 23), she’ll make history as the first black actress ever to take home the statue.

It’s another career-defining moment for the 45-year-old, who’s had a two-decade-long career as a working actress with standout movie roles in Hustle & Flow and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which got her an Oscar nod in 2008). After two decades in the business, the girl with hustle from, in her words, “the ’hood in southeast Washington, D.C.,” has officially dominated Hollywood.


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