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Amber Riley is no Material Girl

Glee (TV)
15 September 2010

Amber Riley plays Mercedes, the marvellously charismatic and dynamic diva-in-training of the Glee Club who refuses to sing as a supporting artist. As far as she’s concerned, it’s centre-stage or nowhere!

The actress, who was honoured to sing for President Obama on the cast’s visit to the White house, an occasion she describes as “the minute her life was made complete”, starts by painting a thumbnail sketch of her character. “Mercedes is outspoken, opinionated, stubborn.
“She is always ready to give you her view of things – but it’s always done with love! She is my alter ego. If I could say the things she does and get away with them, I probably would! But she’s a hero for her friends. She’s really sweet.”   
Amber, who got her break when Glee creator Ryan Murphy (who also conceived Nip/Tuck and Popular) cast her in a pilot, “St. Sass”, an experience that won her a part in Cedric the Entertainer Presents, carries on by recounting how she deals with the legions of Glee aficionados who now approach her whenever she goes out in public.
“I wasn’t surprised that people liked the show,” says Amber, who is 24 and lives with her family in Long Beach, California. “But I was shocked that it became as big as it did as quickly as it did.
“People relate to the characters because they’re outsiders. So many viewers feel they really know us. They’re always coming up to me and saying, ‘hey, Mercedes, how are you?’ like we went to school together!” 
Amber, whose mother, Tiny, was in the choir and danced with her daughter during the song Like a Prayer in the Madonna episode, reckons the show celebrates the sort of social outcasts who wind up in the Glee Club at McKinley High School. “I say embrace the loser within you! You only become a loser when someone doesn’t agree with what you’re doing. But you know what? Who cares?”
Amber thinks that viewers are also attracted to the message of tolerance that Glee promotes; it has powerful things to say about trying to be at ease with people who are different. “The show is about accepting people and being tolerant. Even if you don’t understand something, just try to accept it.” 
Audiences are also quite clearly magnetised by the music in Glee. The song and dance routines take the show into another dimension. “Music is a universal language,” muses Amber, who has performed in numerous theatre productions, including Alice in Wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Into the Woods and Mystery on the Docks, with the Los Angeles Opera.
“The classic songs make people remember the old days, while the more recent songs prompt new emotions. When you can’t say precisely what you want in words, singing a song helps to get an idea across.” 
The actress has high hopes for the second series and sees intriguing ways in which the show could evolve. “I want to go into the characters’ homes more and see why they’re all so messed up!”
Amber finishes by underscoring how much of a Gleek she is herself. With a beaming smile, she declares: “If I wasn’t in Glee, I’d be obsessed by it!”

Glee: Season 1 Information Page

Glee Season 1: Road to Regionals, available on DVD, released 13 September 2010 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment