The TV beauty started landing onscreen roles from the age of four, when she appeared on Eddie Murphy's U.S. sitcom The Royal Family, and she went on to win parts in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Baywatch and Even Stevens.
But Rivera admits the job offers practically dried up in her late teens because producers couldn't figure out what to do with her.
During an appearance on MTV's This Is How I Made It, she explains, "I am half Puerto Rican, a quarter German and a quarter black. That was always a big issue for me - being mixed race - because casting directors tended to be very like, 'OK, are you Hispanic for this role?' 'Or is she going to be African American?'
"So, it was really tough and work started to slow down. From the time I was 16 to really up until turning 21, the roles were really, really few and far between. I had people say that I just wasn't a good singer. They didn't know what to do with me; I would never fit in any markets. I almost quit acting altogether."
Luckily Rivera, now 25, continued to audition for gigs and in 2009 she was cast as cheerleader Santana Lopez in smash hit series Glee. Her star-turn on the musical comedy has also landed her a solo deal with Columbia Records.