Host Jason Lee is starting Women’s History Month off right with the latest guest on “The Jason Lee Show,” Amber Riley. The actress and singer joins a growing list of celebrities across Hollywood — including Cardi B, La La Anthony, couple Blueface and Chrisean Rock, and most recently, Laverne Cox — who sat down with Lee for raw and unfiltered conversations covering a slew of different topics.
On this week’s installment, Riley discussed growing up in Compton, California; finding success while battling anxiety; the power of Lizzo; and much more. Keep reading below for a full recap of the episode.
Amber Riley rose to prominence as an actress on Fox’s musical comedy “Glee,” where she portrayed Mercedes Jones for six seasons until the series finale in 2015. Fans quickly grew to love Riley’s character and her stand-out performances, including a rendition of Jennifer Holiday’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
However, the 35-year-old revealed to Lee that her tenure on the show wasn’t always as enjoyable as some may have thought. Riley said she had already been dealing with anxiety due to her childhood, but being on the show only amplified those feelings. The actress also shared that being in Hollywood ultimately caused her to be apprehensive to the point that she started having anxiety “about my own looks and how to present myself to the world.”
“I got older, and I get on a TV show, and you start making all this money, but nobody has ever taught you how to manage money. Nobody’s ever taught you how to manage fame,” she explained. “I always thought that I was pretty normal growing up, and then you get on television, and everybody’s telling you, ‘You’re fat.’ Everybody’s telling you, ‘You’re too big.’ They’re telling you you’re ugly.”
Not only was Riley feeling self-conscious, she also felt her character had shallow development. “Even on the show, my gift was always being utilized because I could sing, but [‘Glee’] didn’t invest in me as an actor,” she continued. “My character never got its just due, and that made me feel like I’m only valuable doing one thing: Coming in at the end of a song and belting or ‘saving it,’ as some people would say. And because of that, [showrunners are] always pitting you against the main character and [you’re] seemingly winning, but never really getting that shot.”
Amber Riley admitted that she began to internalize negative feelings, noting, “It made it really hard for me to encourage myself or really see myself.” However, when Lee asked why she stayed if she was unhappy, the actress said that after a while, she viewed it as simply “a check.”
“In my mind, I had gotten to a point where it’s like, ‘This show wasn’t created for you. This is not your shot. You’ll get your shot, but this is not your shot. So look at it as a job,’” she explained. “And that’s what it is. I come in, I do my job, and I go home. That’s what it became for me.”
Riley thought she would’ve received more acting opportunities following the success of “Glee.” During its six season-run, the series earned dozens of award nominations, winning six Emmys and nine Golden Globe Awards. However, the entertainer told Lee that even after the series ended, “It doesn’t matter what I’ve done in my career; I constantly have to prove myself.”
Yet, the Single Black Female star said her talents sometimes hindered her progression. “I feel like sometimes singers that could really, really sing aren’t for the masses,” she said. “The masses tend to gravitate toward what they can understand, and sometimes what they can understand might be a little more mediocre. That’s the reason that there’s so many amazing vocalists that don’t get the shine they should,” she added, suggesting that the age of social media is primarily to blame.
Still, Riley finds motivation to keep pushing for her career in other Black women, particularly Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Lizzo, who’s received relentless critiques about her appearance and talent. “I think I pull more from her every time I see her opening an award show. And it’s all these women that look like me, that look like her, that may not be a mainstream body type,” Riley revealed about connecting with Lizzo’s journey.
“She has women that have pear shapes and apple shapes, and all these different body shapes, and all these different shades, and when I see them shining — because they can dance [their] a**es off — when I see her background singers singing their a**es off, her singing, and dancing and being a freaking pop star,” she continued. “The way that it empowers me… It ain’t just because she’s big. It’s because she’s phenomenal, and it’s possible.”
The conversation continued as Riley opened up about her experience auditioning for “American Idol,” winning “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Masked Singer,” and much more.
Like always, if you liked what you heard, tune into new episodes of “The Jason Lee Show” every Tuesday on REVOLT’s TV channel at 10 p.m. ET as well as every Wednesday on our website, YouTube Channel, and app at 5 p.m. ET. Also, don’t forget to watch the latest installment with Amber Riley here.