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.
Still, despite her history as a performer, Ciria finds the comparisons to other Latino artists unavoidable, a situation she views as more than frustrating. "I've been doing this since I was twelve years old -- singing in English and Spanish, trying to combine their styles -- and I've watched all these trends form. Now it's almost cliche to be a pop Hispanic singer, and I'm thinking, 'How did this happen?'
"Jennifer Lopez's name comes up all the time, and up until the last three years, I've never been compared to anyone else -- it was a new thing," she adds. "It's frustrating, because I feel like I'm just late getting there. Everyone is saying, 'Just use it to your advantage, just to get in the door.'"
For the most part, Ciria remains good-humored about the newfound prevalence of Hispanic pop artists; she jokes that she's writing a song with the theme of "I was doing the Ricky Martin thing before it was so cool and chic." Yet as the hours and days go by and new Hispanic-tinged groups break onto the pop-music scene -- and she's not among them -- her patience wears thin. Especially when she is reminded of times when she came this close to being among those who rode the early Loca wave. A few years ago she expected to ink a deal with Interscope Records, but a Latino singer with a famous father was invited to sign the dotted line instead. "Enrique Iglesias is my deal-breaker," she says, with a tone that indicates there's some truth behind her joke. "I shouldn't say that, but I like to blame him because it's easier." Interscope (which has since merged with Universal/A&M/Geffen Records) signed Enrique around the same time execs there were discussing a future with Ciria; as part of the package, the label took on three Latina women artists whom Iglesias wanted to produce. Ciria was not one of them, and her deal was canned. Though the label hasn't yet invited her to join its increasingly spiced-up roster, execs there remain interested. Tony Ferguson, Interscope's vice president of A&R, says he liked what he heard on Meant to Be.
"There are a couple of songs on the disc that I consider really good," he says. "She has an air of believability when it comes to delivering a lyric, and I was impressed with her vocal strengths. But we needed the talent bar to be raised a little higher." And, Ferguson adds, though the music market may seem somewhat tapped out these days when it comes to Latin-based pop music, he feels the fact that it has become more mainstream will eventually help Ciria instead of creating a barrier.
So while Ciria waits to show the world outside of Denver her pop-worthiness, she's doing what she can on a local level. Sales of Meant to Be are going "reasonably well," she says; in fact, the disc is currently number three on the Top 10 sales list of USA 1 Stop -- a local distribution company that stocks retail stores including Tower and Virgin Records in and outside of Colorado. Ciria's name appears alongside such local heavy-hitting artists as Hazel Miller, Sally Taylor and Opie Gone Bad. Ciria has also received a boost this past summer by taking part in the Music Patrons Association of the Rockies' Summer 2000 "Jam in the Store" Tour. Designed to give local music a boost, the tour kicked off this past June and has placed acts like Nina Storey, Chupacabra, Matthew Moon and Yo, Flaco! in Denver-area Borders Books & Music stores; the series grinds to a halt the first weekend in September.