The Real Hidden Figures: Empire’s Beverly Jo Pryor and Melissa Forney

Photography by Fox Broadcasting

When millennial parents were younger, quality representation of black, strong families and relationships were vibrant and present on every screen. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Martin. In the 90s, African Americans flourished in Black romantic comedies and dramas. Deliver Us From Eva, Love & Basketball, Friday, and Brown Sugar.


Today we have the Lyons. We have EMPIRE. Empire is the hottest show in primetime television starring our beasting duo from the award-winning movie, Hustle & Flow, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t watched an episode, the show centers around a family, the Lyons, in the music industry staying on top of their personal and professional drama while holding their bond strong through their record label, Empire Entertainment.

Photography by Fox Broadcasting

With the mix between powerful and dramatic action and catchy songs, the first season of Empire blew up becoming the hottest show on television. It’s currently on its fourth season and still maintaining their momentum with an array of celebrities making appearances drawing in more viewers.

African American’s recognize Henson and Howard for landing these roles and the bigger role they play in breaking opportunities for Black actors and actresses. While their achievements are amazing, the two hidden figures lie beyond the camera. Behind the camera, there are two ladies, two African American ladies, two African American ladies who resumes are, in our opinion, unmatched. Two ladies every single person should know about. Meet Empire’s Department Heads, Beverly Jo Pryor and Melissa Forney.

Not in the beauty world or haven’t heard their names? You’ve definitely seen Pryor’s hairstyling and Forney’s makeup artistry. Both were Department Heads on the movie Hidden Figures and Selma. That right there should have you saying WOW. Those movies are groundbreaking with amazing styling.

Photography by Fox Broadcasting

Pryor’s career spans back to Family Matters, Sister Sister, Ugly Betty and Vampire Diaries. Forney’s artistry can be seen in Think Like a Man Too, The Best Man Holiday, Hancock and Honey. Yes, these two women are goals in every way and we wanted to peek into their Empire life and sprinkle some inspiration your way. And hunny, those sprinkles are GOOD.

Empire has been a huge hit, becoming one of the top shows with African American actors on primetime TV. When first receiving the opportunity to work on this show, did you expect for it to grow into this big of a success?

Pryor: “I worked with Lee Daniels on “The Butler” and he called and asked if I would do the pilot for Empire. Shooting the pilot was a great experience, but also exciting and unique. Once it was picked up for the first season, I knew it would be a success. The camaraderie with the cast was fantastic to witness.”

Forney: “I honestly didn’t know until we did the pilot. It was amazing to have worked on it. I feel that it is and will continue to be a success.”

Styling on television is completely different than a salon. Talk us through the day of a stylist on a television show. Are you able to independently create the looks for the cast or is it a joint effort between the director, costume designer and stylist?

Pryor: “Preparing for the day starts with being organized, knowing the script and getting all cast members ready. Throughout the day, we maintain everyone’s looks, making adjustments and follow continuity. Looks are always a collaborative effort between the director, the costume designer, hair and makeup. For example, Taraji’s personal looks are different from her character as Cookie. We work together to make sure to differentiate between herself and her character.”

Empire features many flashback scenes with looks corresponding to the times. How do you draw inspiration for those looks, including male actors?

Forney: “It starts by the year of the flashback. I usually do research for that particular year, which consists of yearbooks, old magazines, and now, the Internet. The library is also a good resource if need be.”

Photography by Fox Broadcasting

Pryor: “A lot of it also comes from the collaboration with the director and costume designer. It really has has a lot to do with what they’re wearing and where they are.”

Let’s take a minute to go back to the start of your career. Tell us how you received your big break?

Pryor: “I received my training at Max Factor and my first job as a beauty consultant. After that, I became a legal secretary and signed up for a UCLA extension program for makeup in Film and TV. The instructor of the program was Bob Scribner, the department head at CBS and he recognized my skills and training. He asked me to fill in as a makeup artist at “The Tonight Show”. I impressed him so much that he asked me to do the morning news. I would go early in the morning and then go to my legal secretary job afterwards. That was my break in TV. After that, I went from working as a day player on “A Different World” to having so much responsibility as the department head of Empire.”

Forney: “I was working in a salon and gave a movie producer a haircut.  She invited me to come and be on the hair and makeup team for the television movie, “True Women”. They gave me the opportunity to be an additional hair stylist. I was very thankful for that chance. From that day forward, it has been non-stop work for me.”

*cuts from interview* Wow, did you hear that? All it takes is one shot and one person to believe in your skills. There’s that sprinkle. *back to interview*

CosmoBiz currently works with major wig and extension brands and incorporate these products in our shoots. Tell us how you work with wig and extensions with your characters and how they are useful to getting the style you plan?

Forney: “Most of the ladies on the show wear wigs now, but every character is completely different. I mostly go by the costumes they are wearing to be able to get creative with their hair, which requires wigs.”

What are some words of encouragement you would like to give to those feeling lost in their career?

Pryor: “Stay focused on your goals and keep dreaming. To be in this business, it has to be embedded in your soul because it isn’t easy. Keep yourself open to learning new things and be a collaborator. Don’t pay attention to what other people are doing or have; just stay the course and do your best work always.” (YASSS, TO THIS ADVICE)

Tell us one of your funniest moments with one of the actors or actresses of Empire.

Forney: “We were singing an Erykah Badu song with Taraji and you had to be there, but it became one of the funniest, but amazing moments while working there.”

(To Melissa, from CosmoBiz: We’re so hear for this duet! We need a video next time!)

One questions we like to ask all amazingly successful stylists like yourself is the following: With the success of your career, was it luck or destiny?

Pryor: “It was non-stop working. It wasn’t luck, it was by the grace of God. I stepped out on faith and self belief. I never stopped. I wanted to see my name on the screen; but was mindful to never step over someone to achieve that. Never let your dreams die. Always keep focus. My parents told me “the world is your backyard” and I believed them.”

Written by Necole Jackson