Naya Rivera was raised in Valencia, Santa Clarita, California and has lived in the Los Angeles area 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. Naya began writing songs when she was 15 years-old.
While appearing in TV ads as a baby, her first acting job came in 1991 when she was four, appearing as Hillary Winston in the Eddie Murphy sitcom The Royal Family.
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 also appeared five times on The Bernie Mac Show. She also appeared on 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, playing a vicious cheerleader. She has characterized Santana as "a bit of a bad girl" who is "really snarky..." Santana played a more prominent part in the last nine episodes of Glee's first season. "... she's the high school terror, and she's going to continue to be the villain."
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In 2010 Rivera reached number 61 on the Maxim Hot 100 list.