Jussie Smollett, like his Empire character, makes no apologies for what he says or who he is. After his on-screen alter ego Jamal Lyon used music to come out publicly as gay on a recent episode of Fox's hit hip-hop drama, fans began to speculate about Smollett's own sexuality. The chatter intensified after costar Malik Yoba appeared to out him in a Q&A — Yoba later said he was "misquoted" — so Smollett decided to address the speculation in a chat with Ellen DeGeneres.
The rising star, 31, stopped by DeGeneres' show on Monday, March 9, to promote his role on Empire, which also stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. Though he skirted a question about his personal life during their actual interview, he later sought out the host backstage for a special heart-to-heart.
"It was very, very important to me that my first performance and talk show, that it was with you," he told her. "You've been such an inspiration to so many, but also to me. What you've done in the LGBT community is very much, in my opinion, kind of like what Michael Jackson did with the black community — just that you are who you are. He was just Michael, and you're just Ellen."
Alluding to the speculation about his sexuality, he continued: "It was really important to me to make sure that it got across that there is no closet. There's never been a closet that I've been in. I don't own a closet — I got a dresser, but I don't have a closet." What he does have, he said, is a home. "And that is my responsibility to protect that home," he explained.
"That's why I choose not to talk about my personal life," he shared. "But there is, without a doubt, no closet that I've ever been in, and I just wanted to make that clear, but it was most important for me to make that clear to you, on your show, at this time in the world. And that's where I'm at."
Smollett went on to say that he was "so inspired" by DeGeneres, who returned the sentiment in kind. "Listen, I think the most important thing is talent. The most important thing is what we do. And we don't want anything to get in the way of that," she told him. "But there are questions out there, so I think that's why it was my responsibility to at least give you the opportunity. And I am so proud of you that you say there is no closet, there never has been a closet. You've never pretended to be anything that you aren't."
"Ever, ever," Smollett emphasized. "So let's not read into it the wrong way when I say that I don't talk about my personal life. I'm saying that, but it is in no way to hide or deny who God made me, you know?"
He added, too, that the people who matter to him know who he is and love him for it. "My mama knows. My mama likes me a lot," he quipped. "And yes, I take her to the Sound of Music sing-along every single year. So, any questions?"
More seriously, he said, "You know, honestly, we're humans and we love and we do all that good stuff. So I'm honored for this opportunity and I'm honored to be here with you." To the fans, he added, "Boom! Now you don't even gotta ask no more. I told Ellen. Who else do I need to tell?"
Sign up now for the Us Weekly newsletter to get breaking celebrity news, hot pics and more delivered straight to your inbox!