Stephan Lee
April 12, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Before her fatal plane crash on Dec. 9 at age 43, Mexican-American superstar Jenni Rivera appeared poised for crossover success. The banda singer — whose concerts easily sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles — was working on another season of her reality show, had completed a feature film that received positive reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, and was developing an ABC sitcom where she’d star as a single, middle-class Latina mom. Journalist Leila Cobo, whose biography Jenni Rivera: The Incredible Story of a Warrior Butterfly hits stores April 24, notes that Rivera’s untimely death has brought a flood of new attention. ”We saw that with Selena when she died,” she says. ”I think the ABC prime-time series would have been huge.”

The pilot, Jenni, had been only in the early planning stages and will not move forward, but new audiences can still discover the singer via her reality series I Love Jenni, which follows Rivera and her extended family. (Season 3 premieres April 14 on mun2.) The show was actually filming with Rivera in Monterrey, Mexico, just hours before the crash, though she had not yet recorded the season’s confessional interviews. ”We’re using almost every minute of tape we had with her for the first episodes, and then we’ll transition and show her family in the aftermath [of her death],” says exec producer Shari Scorca. ”Watching the first two minutes of the premiere, I had to stop because I got very emotional. There’s a look she gives… You’re not going to see those sly little Jenni Rivera looks anymore.”

The reality series is just one of the projects Rivera left behind. She also gave her first dramatic acting performance in the Sundance film Filly Brown (opening nationwide on April 19), about an up-and-coming Latina rapper (newcomer Gina Rodriguez) whose mother, played by Rivera, is incarcerated. ”The final scene with Jenni was so powerful that now that she’s gone, the audiences who have seen the performance — her audience — don’t get up to leave the theater,” says Filly Brown exec producer and costar Edward James Olmos, who believes Rivera deserves an Oscar nomination for the role. ”They are in heaving sobs.”

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