By Tim Stack
Updated October 04, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Mike Yarish/Fox

This week’s episode of Glee, titled “Asian F,” was a showcase for some of the series’ most underused characters: Mike (Harry Shum Jr.), Emma (Jayma Mays), and especially Mercedes (Amber Riley). New Directions’ powerhouse vocalist finally had a juicy story line as she battled Rachel (Lea Michele) for the lead in the school production of West Side Story and sang three songs, including Jennifer Hudson’s “Spotlight” and (Riley’s fave) “It’s All Over,” from Dreamgirls. “I literally went into the studio and recorded that in, like, seven minutes, because I watch Dreamgirls so freakin’ much,” Riley says. “It was so easy.”

But the episode’s biggest moment came when Mercedes shocked viewers by (SPOILER ALERT!!!)quitting New Directions and joining the new glee club, run by Shelby Corcoran (Idina Menzel). “I was scared,” Riley says of the plot twist. “I was like, ‘What does that mean? What is she doing?’” Still, she says, “every actor loves a challenge, and I get to embark on something new, something different that Mercedes hasn’t gotten to do.” Besides, Riley adds, she’ll have company soon. “In the next episode [Nov. 1], somebody might be coming over with Mercedes from [New Directions],” the 25-year-old teases. Less clear is what’s in store for McKinley High’s seniors, including Mercedes and Rachel, after this season. “All I know is I’ve been told that I’m a senior and I am graduating,” Riley says. “If it is my last season, it is what it is. I’ve been given a really great platform to do other things that I love. I’m happy at the place where I am.”

Riley is also currently recording her first album. Says the actress, “I started when we came back on tour. I slept for about three days straight [laughs]. I flew to New York. I wanted to find what my sound was and I was in the studio every single day for a week straight.” While there’s no release date set yet, Riley fans can expect the album to be “very Motown and very jazzy and bluesy.”

Follow Tim on Twitter: @EWTimStack

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