Lip Sync Battle has saved the very best for last: In the first episode of a two-part finale, Empire stars Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard unleash the monsters inside of them. These are two actors who know that if you don’t come big, you might as well say good-bye to that Lee Daniels gig. We’ve had a run of tepid performances in our recapping this season, but this is fire-emoji, diamond-emoji, sobbing-emoji realness here. Let’s get to the show.
Battle 1: Taraji P. Henson’s “Just Fine” vs. Terrence Howard’s “I’ll Make Love To You”
It seems perfectly natural that Mary J. Blige would stroll out in the middle of this song, doesn’t it? Such is the power of Taraji P. Henson. I mean, this is the woman who dropped one of Kendrick Lamar’s tracks like it wasn’t no thang. And there’s clearly something about this track that runs deep for her: It’s all joy and freedom from here on out, baby. Terrence Howard, not to be outdone, wrings every bit of emotion out of the Boyz II Men song. But that moment at 2:10 when Taraji duets with Mary J.? Done.
Winner: Taraji P. Henson, by a liberation anthem.
Interlude: Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard perform “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”
Taraji should have been the pimp. That is all.
Battle 2: Terrence Howard’s “Brick House” vs. Taraji P. Henson’s “Material Girl”
Taraji is immaculate as early Madonna, and this might be one of the best choreographed pieces I’ve seen on the show. And yet: Terrence Howard is so wrong, he’s right. The wig. The underwear-tights combo. That belly button. It’s all too much, and yet just enough. It’s epic. It’s stanky. It’s glorious. Do they give out guest Emmys for this?
Winner: Terrence Howard, by a diamond staff.
Overall: It crushes me to say this, but I’m giving the edge to Terrence Howard. His Rick James is everything I’ve ever wanted in a lip sync: over-the-top, delicious camp. But there’s always next week!