Between 19, she had small roles in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Live Shot, Baywatch, Smart Guy, The Jersey, 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".
In 2009, Rivera was cast as Santana Lopez, a high school cheerleader, on Fox's musical comedy series Glee, about a high school glee club.is an American actress and singer, known for playing Santana Lopez on Fox's musical comedy-drama television series Glee.She also played the role of Hillary Winston on The Royal Family at the age of 4, for which she received a Young Artist Award nomination.Her first solo single "Sorry", featuring American rapper Big Sean, was released on September 17, 2013.Rivera received a Young Artist Award nomination for her performance in the series.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.
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".
She was given her first solo in the fifth episode of season two, "The Rocky Horror Glee Show", and performed several others as the season progressed.
During the second season, Rivera's role in the show was radically changed when it was revealed that her character was a lesbian.
Rivera portrayed Santana struggling to come to terms with her sexuality, with her love for her best friend, and with her inability to come out of the closet.
She received favorable reviews for her performance.