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April 03, 2023

'Empire' star Taraji P. Henson to guest star on 'Abbott Elementary'

The actress will take on the role of Vanetta, the mother of Quinta Brunson's character Janine

Throughout the first two seasons of "Abbott Elementary," the sitcom's main character, Janine, has alluded to internal struggles stemming from her relationship with her mother. The two characters soon will appear on screen together for the first time.

Taraji P. Henson, best known for her role as Cookie Lyon on "Empire," has been cast as Janine's mom, Vanetta, Variety reported. Henson will guest star in the April 12 episode, aptly titled "Mom."

In the episode, Janine, the second grade teacher played by Quinta Brunson, is arranging a solo Memorial Day trip when Vanetta shows up needing help, thwarting Janine's plans. Meanwhile, Gregory, a teacher played by Tyler James Williams, attempts to work on his people skills.

"Mom" is the 21st episode of "Abbott Elementary's" second season, which ends April 19 with a Franklin-Institute-themed finale. ABC already has greenlit a third season of the Emmy Awarding-winning show. 

The newest addition to the cast was revealed Saturday during the Paley Center for Media's annual PaleyFest LA event, which included an "Abbott Elementary" panel comprised of nearly all of the show's stars. Brunson, who was hosting "Saturday Night Live" that evening, missed the panel but sent a pre-taped message.

So far, Henson seems to be getting a warm welcome to the halls of the fictional Philadelphia public school from the show's cast. 

"Taraji was GENUINELY nice with a cool ass energy," Janelle James, who plays Principal Ava Coleman, tweeted. "I learned a lot in the short amount of time I got to watch her work." 

Henson starred in the Fox hit series "Empire" from 2015 through 2020, earning three Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe Award, a Critics Choice Award and three BET awards. 

The Washington, D.C., native actress also has appeared in the movies "Hustle & Flow," "Hidden Figures," "Think Like a Man" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which earned her an Oscar nomination. She soon will appear in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical "The Color Purple."

Brunson and Henson appeared together on the March 28 episode of "That's My Jam," Jimmy Fallon's game show that pits celebrities head-to-head in a variety of musical and dance challenges.

With Henson being added to the fold, viewers are gaining a more complete picture of Janine's family life. Earlier this season, "The Bear" star Ayo Edibiri appeared as Ayesha, Janine's sister, who came to stay in Philadelphia for a tense weekend that did not go quite as planned.

"Abbott Elementary" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC, and can be streamed on Hulu.

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