“I’d been up since, like, 4:40 a.m. because I’m on European time. I hopped in the shower at 8, but that did not change my attention,” the black-ish star tells PEOPLE of the nerves and anticipation she felt in the minutes leading up to the reveal.
“I decided to put on a moisture mask and go down to my meditation room and meditate. So I was listening to the birds when 8:30 struck, and when I opened my eyes to look at my phone and I said, ‘I’ll just see if there are some texts. If there are some texts, that’s good news.’ I saw one text and I was about to open it to see what it said and more started to come in, and I thought, ‘This is a good sign!’ ”
After discovering she’d been nominated for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, Ross began calling her family — including mom Diana Ross.
“I called my mom my dad my sisters my brothers. I called my entire family because I didn’t want to text it to them and I called one of my best friends,” says the actress, 44. “The moments where I get to connect to my loved ones are so meaningful and exciting.”
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Ross is nominated alongside Better Things‘ Pamela Adlon, Mom‘s Allison Janney, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s Ellie Kemper, Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Grace & Frankie costars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
“When I found out the other women that are in my category, I was blown away,” says Ross. “Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are two people who have epically influenced my life and career, so I feel tickled. I also feel like there are so many other women that are just as deserving as me in having this moment of acknowledgement. There are so many women doing such extraordinary work.”
This marks Ross’ second Emmy nomination. The actress was previously nominated for her role as mom Bow on black-ish in 2016, when she became the first black woman to be nominated in her category since The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad in 1986.
“I am well aware of the historical significance of being nominated in this category as a black woman and it’s been many years since a black woman has won in this category,” says Ross, who is one of only five black women to ever be nominated in her category. (The first and only black actress to win the lead comedy actress Emmy was Isabel Sanford of The Jeffersons, who won the award in 1981.)
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Ross is also thrilled that her hit ABC sitcom as well as her on-screen husband, Anthony Anderson, are also nominated this year.
Black-ish has been a ratings and critical hit since it premiered in 2014, but gained major media attention for tacking social issues head-on in season 3.
“What our writers do so beautifully is find that real-life balance with the humor that emerges in some of the heaviest moments and also in not shying away from — and having the courage to — really dive into some subject matter that all of our lives are being affected by, be that the election or the ‘N-word’ or preeclampsia and being an older mother or being biracial,” she says. “Our writers do an amazing job at looking at these real-life topics in a real way without saying, ‘This is how you should deal with this.’ They just say, ‘Let’s unpack this and look at it from a few different ways through the lens of this family.’ ”
The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Stephen Colbert, will air live on CBS from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sept. 17.