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‘Glee’s’ Amber Riley: ‘You can’t complain about the things that are going on in the world if you haven’t taken part’

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"Glee" star Amber Riley (WireImage)
As all good Gleeks know, the fourth season of "Glee" premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. And though many of the show's main characters graduated last May, fans will still get to see the crew weekly as they follow their dreams post-high school. While it seems like it might be a little tricky to keep up with everyone since they're all living in different places, Amber Riley — whose alter ego, Mercedes, has moved to Los Angeles along with Puck (played by co-star Mark Salling) to pursue a career in music — promises "it's going to be a great season. I think people are really going to like it."

Much like Mercedes, who is focused on making it in the big city as a backup singer without her former New Directions choir members, Riley is doing pretty well herself when it comes to landing cool gigs outside of "Glee." For starters, the 26-year-old will be making her NYC stage debut in a musical revue called "Cotton Club Parade" from November 14-18. "They are going to be highlighting some music from Duke Ellington and that era, and I can't wait!" Riley shares in an interview with omg!, noting that she is excited to not only wear the fabulous period costumes but to get to work with the show's musical director, Wynton Marsalis. "I always say that I should have been born during that time because I love that music — Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and all those wonderful jazz and blues voices."

Riley also performed solo at the Democratic National Convention and received rave reviews. "I sang the National Anthem at the DNC and it was an amazing experience," she says. "I was very, very nervous … probably the most nervous I've ever been. I was shaking inside and out. I just didn't want to forget the words!" Fortunately, that didn't happen, and while Riley didn't get to spend any one-on-one time with President Obama and his family, she was honored just to take part in the festivities. "To be able to sit there and listen to the first lady's speech was just so moving. She's an idol of mine."

The singer — who has met the first family before while visiting the White House with her "Glee" co-stars — was also anxious to take part in the convention because she feels it's important to be involved in the political process. "I think it's important for young people to vote because they need to know that their opinion does count," she says. "You can't complain about the things that are going on in the world if you haven't taken part or taken the time to understand what's going on. When you turn 18 and [get] that privilege to vote, you need to think about the kids that are coming up behind you and what world you want them to grow up in." She's quick to add, "I never tell anybody who to vote for because it's all about who you feel is the best for you. Pick the issues that are important to you."

Another message Riley wants to get out to teens is the importance of driving safely behind the wheel, which is why she's hooked up with State Farm's "Celebrate My Drive" program, which encourages new drivers to celebrate the milestone of getting their license, but to also be safe and aware that driving is a privilege that comes with a lot of responsibility. "I was hit by a first-year driver when I was 15 years old," reveals the starlet. "A teenager ran a red light and hit us. I still have the scar on my forehead, so if you ever notice it, that's what it's from." Noting that there will be over 300 "Celebrate My Drive" special events held all over the United States and Canada, Riley says, "I think what's really awesome about this program is that instead of using a scare tactics approach, it's very positive."

To find out more about the "Celebrate My Drive" initiative, where you can enter to win a $100,000 grant for your school, or enter for a chance to win a new car if you're between the ages of 15 and 18, visit celebratemydrive.com.

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