By Noah Hubbell
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By Dave Herrerra
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Before there was Britney, before Christina, Denver-based pop singer Ciria Arellano was poised for teen stardom. She had a chance to join the ranks of the cute little Mousketeers on the new Mickey Mouse Club -- a program that has, in the past several years, served as a kind of farm league for budding teenage pop stars. At age fifteen, Ciria (who's now 23) auditioned for Disney when an international search for new Mouse Club members brought the entertainment giant to Colorado. "I did the audition in Denver, and I was there for twelve hours," she explains. "I ended up being one of five kids that they put on videotape. A month and a half later, they said, 'Congratulations, we want to sign you to do the pilot and then the camp, and do the whole thing.' So I went and I did that."
End of story? Not quite. While filming the pilot in Buena Vista, Florida, Ciria danced with future Felicitystar Kerri Russell and Joshua (or JC, as he's known) Chasez of 'N Sync, but when it came time to cut the final deal, something about it felt a little constricting, both literally and figuratively. "I was a little bit [busty]," Ciria says, "and one of the stipulations on my contract was that they would tape [my chest]." Ciria's parents thought that would put their talented daughter -- then just a regular teenager who was just trying to figure out life and all its complexities -- over the edge; unlike many show-biz parents who disregard such concerns, the family basically told Disney to take a hike. "[The deal] would have broken up our family, and my parents weren't willing to do that," Ciria says.
So while it seems that, in her case, Mother and Father did indeed know best, Ciria is reminded on an almost daily basis of the fortune and fame that might have been hers. As the world waits out the latest teen explosion, its stars are everywhere, from the latest 'N Sync video flashing on the TV at all hours of the day to the ever-presence of Keri Russell and Britney Spears all decked out on dueling magazine covers. Ciria admits that seeing that type of success -- enjoyed by people whom she considered her peers at one time -- is enough to make her scream. She has regrets "all the time" about telling Disney to kiss off, she says without hesitation. "But it also goes back and forth, because we say, 'Well, we wish...,' but at the same time, I may have never been able to write songs on my own and do what I want to do, because from the beginning, organizations like Disney say, 'Here's who you are, here's what you're going to be.'"
These days, Ciria has the luxury to do what she wants, for the most part, and to define herself as a dance-oriented pop singer in Denver -- not exactly an easy task in a geographic area that's better known for its myriad alternative-rock and folk singers. "Pop has been treated as this kind of taboo, ugly area for a lot of local artists, and I think I understand why, in that it's so obviously mainstream, so obviously about marketing," she says. "But [other musicians] are trying to get signed because they have a hit song -- it's all the same process."
While it hasn't yet spawned a hit single, Ciria's debut -- 1999's Meant to Be -- serves as a showcase for her R&B-flavored pop tunes that sound more than a little like the Jennifer Lopez stuff you're hearing on the radio these days (though the singer lends more of a mature Vanessa Williams type of vocal strength). Lyrically, all of the songs lean toward the romantic side of life, and Ciria employs a pro-woman empowerment attitude, whether she's telling her man to "Spend Some Time" or sassily asking a guy if he knows how to love just one woman right in the upbeat "Do You Do." Recorded locally at F20 Studios, Meant to Be highlights Ciria's definitely-a-diva voice; unlike the Lopez stuff, listeners can actually hearher vocals, because they're not all synthed-out and overproduced. The singer helped pen three of the twelve tunes that appear on the disc; the remaining writing credits go to Cy Frost and Doug Olson, her managers, arrangers, producers and all around go-to guys.
"I've listened to a lot of people over the years, but I had never come across someone who could compete on the national or international stage like [Ciria] can," says Olson, who, along with Frost, was so taken by the young performer when they met her as a high-schooler that they cast her in Comedy Rock, a music and sketch-comedy revue that ran for two years at LoDo's Comedy Works in the mid-'90s. "The sound she's honing in on right now is pop Latin music with strong R&B influences, and obviously, we hope people will find what she does unique," he adds.
That kind of singing and dancing style has been Ciria's trademark for years, even if other artists are now defining it. Her early inspiration as a performer came via her father, a Denver police officer who had a side gig in the local cop-composed band Squad Four in the '80s. Between the ages of eight and thirteen, Ciria often tagged along with the band on weekends, and the sound of music was literally everywhere in her life. "Dad was always writing and recording a new song on his reel-to-reel recorder in the basement. Mom sang along to her favorite new records and taught me the newest dance steps," she says. While it wasn't exactly a scene from the Partridge Family, the abundance of music in her own household led Ciria to get involved in school performances and to begin singing at functions in the Hispanic community. Her early community-based performances caught the eye and ear of local Latin artist Manuel Molina, who used to introduce her as "the little girl with the big voice." Molina enlisted Ciria as a background singer when she was only fourteen, and she accompanied him on his 1996 Department of Defense tour of Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Israel.