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April 12, 2011

Get Your Gleek On!

amber riley glee may 2011

Amber was all smiles as she effortlessly aced this midnight blue Donna Morgan dress.

Photo Credit: Mark Abrahams

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Age: 25
Hometown: La Mirada, CA
Character Name: Mercedes Jones

Was high school heaven or hell?
It was fine — just something I had to get through. I had such a life outside of class: I was involved in drama club, gospel choir, theater. I took dance classes, jazz, opera classes — anything that had to do with music. My friends called me "Hollywood" because they said I'd be famous.

My pre-Glee gig was …
I worked at Ikea as a customer service rep for two years and loved it.

Walking into the Glee audition …
I had no idea what Glee was about, but my friend had told me, "They're looking for someone who can belt." They asked me to sing "And I Am Telling You" from Dreamgirls, which I had never sung before. Two weeks later, I got the role.

Greatest personality divide between you and Mercedes?
Mercedes and I share confidence, but I would never dress that way! I love color, but all the sneakers and neon and jewelry that she wears? I also never had her insecurities about weight — I was skinny in high school — but I love that now I get to show girls how to be comfortable with their bodies.

You guys work a lot. What's the secret to keeping your sanity during 14- to 16-hour workdays?
First Wives Club. It's just the girls. It usually takes place on a long day when we need a break. All the girls go to Lea's trailer and talk. Off set, we go to Cory Monteith's house — he was the first one who got a bigger place — or last weekend a bunch of us got sushi. Tabloids don't want us to get along, but what they don't understand is music brings a different dynamic to our set; it brings people closer.

Your character's friendship with Kurt is so special. Who's your Kurt in real life?
Kurt! Chris Colfer really is my Kurt. That's my baby. Having his character at that other school — Dalton Academy — this season is driving me up the wall.

On-set nickname?
Mama A. I look out for everyone.

Your love prediction for Mercedes?
Being that she lives in Ohio and there are only six black kids in the whole school, it would be great for her to have a biracial relationship. Back in high school, I went on dates, but I was too focused on my career. My parents were like, "It's nice to have a boyfriend, but it's even nicer to own your house when you're 21."

Tabloid terror: What's been the most absurd rumor you've heard?
A magazine said Chris, Naya [Rivera], and I would only answer to "The Artists," and that Kevin [McHale], Jenna [Ushkowitz], Heather [Morris], and Harry [Shum] were upset because we wouldn't talk to them. It's so funny because everybody knows Kevin is the most arrogant, pompous jerk — just kidding! It's ridiculous.

How does Glee make you feel?
Unstoppable. In high school, I had to write a bucket list. Meeting the president, being on Oprah, and going to — not being nominated for — the Grammys were on my list. And I've done all of that through Glee. Standing on the White House balcony last year to sing the National Anthem next to Obama, I couldn't look at my castmates — those idiots on the lawn — because they were so excited for me, they were bawling. [laughs] I flew home the next day and swore the plane would crash. I was like, "That's it! What else is there left to do?"

Read the rest of Marie Claire's exclusive interview with the Glee star in our May 2011 issue, on newsstands April 19.

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