The actress, singer, and activist honored Rivera with a heartfelt performance of her new track “A Moment,” from her debut self-titled album, out October 2.
As the Glee star sang about grief and overcoming our toughest battles, photos of Rivera as a child and messages she wrote to her friends and family flashed behind her. The background soon transitioned to pictures of Rivera as a young adult on the Glee set, and in recent years, as a mother to her four-year-old son Josey.
“We both lost a really amazing friend in a tragic accident”
Before Riley’s breathtaking tribute, she was introduced by guest host Lil Rel Howery, who called Rivera a “really amazing friend.”
“Not too long ago, we both lost a really amazing friend in a tragic accident and we both will miss her forever,” Howery said. “I want to thank the show for really letting us do this. [Riley’s] here to perform a tribute to our good friend, Naya Rivera,” Lil Rel Howery said before the performance.
On Twitter, Howery gave some interesting backstory on what prompted Amber’s emotional appearance on Thursday. ‘Quick backstory the musical guest on this show backed out and I called them and asked if we can do this tribute and let Amber kill it. The Kimmel team said yes!!! Thank You!!!’ he explained.
Prior to hitting the stage on Thursday, Amber, who played Mercedes Jones on the hit musical comedy-drama series, took to Instagram. She shared a photo promoting Thursday’s performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “Catch RILEY’s tribute performance to Naya Rivera on Jimmy Kimmel Live! August 27th,’ the image read.
“It just hits you like a bullet”
“It just hits you like a bullet/ Now I need a moment alone with my soul,” Riley sang over the piano as black-and-white photos of Rivera were projected behind her. “Everybody thinks I’m OK but nobody knows the way I’m really feeling, I’m ready to fight, I’m ready to see what’s on the other side,” belted Riley at one point. “I’m ready to cry and just let it be. I don’t have much pride, I put that aside. Get back to me,” she crooned.
The emotional song ended with Riley turning to look lovingly at a large image of a smiling Rivera.
Riley starred as Mercedes Jones on Glee with Rivera, who portrayed cheerleader Santana Lopez. The late actress appeared in all six seasons of the musical dramedy, and her character’s quick wit and hilarious one-liners quickly made her a fan favorite.
“I’m so mad the world will never see how high you could have soared”
On Wednesday, July 8, Rivera went missing while boating with her 4 year old son, Josey in Lake Piru, California. That afternoon, the actress’ son was found alone on the rented pontoon boat, and authorities were immediately called to the scene. On July 13, Ventura County Sheriff’s Department officials announced that they found Rivera’s body following a five day-long search of the lake. She was 33 years old.
Riley honored her late friend in a touching social media tribute, where she shared a slideshow of photos featuring the two together. She began her caption by writing that the pair had the “best duets” while starring on Glee together.
“Miss you baby girl and I love you #NayaRivera,” she wrote at the time. “I’m so mad the world will never see how high you could have soared. Her brain was brilliant. She was smart and as quick as a whip. Always had me in stitches, we would be in tears laughing so hard at one another.”
“I say your name everyday and hold you in my heart, just like I do Cory Monteith”
Riley expressed that there was never any competition, shade or intimidation between the two stars, “just pure adoration and mutual respect,” adding, “You deserved better. You were so much more than just this show. Your talent out shined us all so many times!”
Riley then wrote about one of her favorite moments with Rivera that happened while they were on tour. Before she compared herself to the late actress writing that they were alike in many ways. “We love hard, and protect our own, and we don’t take no s— from anyone,” she wrote. “We can either slice you with our words, or bring you comfort with that same breath. Dealer’s choice. I say your name everyday and hold you in my heart, just like I do Cory [Monteith],” Riley added.
Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson on “Glee,” died in 2013 at the age of 31, after suffering an overdose of heroin and alcohol.
“I’ve cried until my tear ducts have dried out”
Riley then noted how the former cast and crew of the hit FOX series have come together to show their love for one another, inspired by Rivera.
“Your presence brought so much excitement, so much passion, so much joy. And in your absence you’re STILL holding us accountable and getting us together,” she wrote. “I’ve cried until my tear ducts have dried out. Now it’s time to celebrate the fact that us mere humans got to experience walking through life with an earth angel. Rest well. I pray you found the peace we all are searching for.”