Naya Rivera (born January 12, 1987) is an American actress and singer known for her role in the musical comedy television series Glee, as cheerleader Santana Lopez.
Rivera was raised in Valencia, Santa Clarita, California and has lived in or around Los Angeles for most of her life. At eight or nine months old, she began to be represented by the same talent agent as her mother, who had moved to Los Angeles to pursue modeling. She took up songwriting at the age of 15.
As a baby, Rivera appeared in commercials for Kmart, but her first significant acting job was at the age of four when she starred as Hillary Winston in the Eddie Murphy produced sitcom The Royal Family in 1991. Between 1992 and 2002, she had small roles in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Live Shot, Baywatch, Smart Guy, House Blend, Even Stevens and The Master of Disguise. In 2002 she also appeared in the music video for B2K's "Why I Love You". She was hired for a single-episode guest appearance on The Bernie Mac Show in 2002, but was brought back to work on a further five episodes. She was later featured in single episodes of 8 Simple Rules and CSI: Miami.
In 2009, Rivera was cast as Cheerios cheerleading squad member Santana Lopez on Fox's musical comedy series Glee, about a high school glee club. Rivera's character comes off as a cold-hearted and vicious cheerleader, who often shows her softer side to fellow cheerleader Brittany (played by Heather Morris). Rivera auditioned for the opportunity "to sing, dance and act all in the same show," and because she was a fan of co-creator Ryan Murphy's previous work on Nip/Tuck. Rivera drew on her own high school experience of unpopularity to prepare for the role, as well as watching films such as Mean Girls to "really get in the zone and feel like a bitchy Sophomore". She has described Santana as "your typical high school cheerleader, for the most part," explaining: "She's really mean and loves boys. She's really witty so I love playing her." She has characterized Santana as "a bit of a bad girl" who is "really snarky and always has these really witty one-liners she throws out there." Rivera enjoys the fact Santana is competitive and headstrong as she herself shares those traits, but dislikes Santana's mean streak. She auditioned for the role as she loves singing, dancing and acting, and had never before had the opportunity to combine all three skills in one project. She finds the show's pacing challenging, especially the dancing, and commented in June 2009 that her most memorable moment on Glee was performing the Cheerios' glee club audition piece, "I Say a Little Prayer". Santana played a more prominent part in the last nine episodes of Glee's first season. Rivera commented: "Santana's been wreaking havoc with people's boyfriends and people's babies and teachers—she's the high school terror, and she's going to continue to be the villain."
In 2010 Rivera made the Maxim Hot 100 list, coming in at number 61.
In January 2011 Rivera appeared in a parody of Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang, called "Nuthin' But a Glee Thang", co-written by her friend Heather Morris.
In May of 2011, it was announced that Rivera had signed a deal with Columbia Records to produce a solo album. Also in May, Rivera hosted the San Francisco GLAAD Media Awards.
During the 2011 Glee Tour, Rivera teamed up with Amber Riley for the duet "River Deep, Mountain High" and performed solo on "Valerie" as well as lending back-up vocals to several other songs.
In July of 2011, Rivera was nominated for two ALMA awards, in the categories of "Favorite Female Music Artist" and "Favorite TV Actress - Leading Role in a Comedy".
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