VIVA Chat: Cierra Ramirez On Music Debut, Gun Culture & The Millennial Latina
"I’m representing for a certain kind of Latina."
For Latinas, the path to Hollywood is a winding road. One that more often than not leads to being compartmentalized, or pigeonholed. This rings true for the music industry as well. Yet, like the legendary icons who walked before her – late Queen of Tejano music, Selena and pop empress, Jennifer Lopez – Houston’s own Cierra Ramirez intends to break the proverbial glass ceiling and make her own mark among greatness.
After gaining prominence with recurring roles on Disney Channel and Freeform shows, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and The Secret Life of an American Teenager—along with winning an ALMA Award for her role in 2012’s Girl In Progress, she eventually landed on the drama series, The Fosters. The show now is gearing up for its fourth season on Freeform.
Picking up where she left off in her music trajectory, she'll soon be releasing her debut EP Discreet on June 20, featuring her Casey Veggies and Honey C-assisted radio hit, "Faded." The six-track project, also feature Ty Dolla $ign and social media sensation Dylan Holland, is available for pre-order now.
Ramirez, who was also recently nominated for a Teen Choice Award for Summer TV Actress, has crafted a promising body of work that reflects her upbeat personality, as well as her history of opening up for legendary acts like Earth, Wind & Fire, Ruben Studdard, and Ace Young. Sonically, it's tailored for the summertime and has a lot of potential playback joints. Discreet, however, is only the preface of what's to come next—her upcoming, untitled LP, which she promises delves deeper.
The project is a joint venture between Tribeca Music Group and music industry veteran Ghazi Shami of EMPIRE Records/Distribution. He gives his blessings on the solid EP saying, "We're excited to partner with Tribeca Music on Cierra's debut EP. She's built a tremendous brand as a successful actress and EMPIRE is excited to help her to do the same as a recording artist. Cierra is super-talented and exactly the kind of mainstream artist that we can help take all the way."
VIBE VIVA caught up with Ramirez, where she opened up about music, being Latina in Hollywood, the current political landscape, and the tragic death of Christina Grimmie.
VIBE VIVA: You’ve done Showtime at the Apollo when you were 10 in 2005. What was that experience like for you?
Cierra: It was amazing! I grew up in Houston, TX and I had grew up seeing lots of competitions in my hometown and I always had loved performing on stage, but I mean this was the Apollo, it was a huge dream come true and a fun opportunity where I got to meet [veteran TV, music, and film producer] Suzanne De Passe who brought me on [The Fosters]. I mean, to this day, that’s probably my most favorite thing I’ve ever done. It was amazing and it was a dream come true.
Were you nervous?
Oh, definitely. I had to rub that good luck tree. [Laughs] Oh yeah, I was really nervous and I remember they filmed a couple of episodes during the day and they were telling [the crowd] not do the kid and I was like, 'Oh my God, wait that’s even a thing? That they have to remind them not to boo the kid!' [Laughs] It was scary, it was intimidating, but once I was up there, I loved it.
Considering your musical background and history, what made you want to transition from television back into music?
Well, music has always been my first love. It’s actually how I got into acting. Like I said, I grew up going to all the competitions in Texas and I ended up getting into a competition here in L.A. that had acting and I’ve never done any musical theatre, or any theatre for that matter, or even thought about acting but I just always loved to perform. [I said to myself] I’m out here, I might as well just try it. So I got my agent and I’ve been with him ever since I was 10-years old, so it’s really been a fun experience and music has always been there. But I wanted to pursue it really young. I think I’m finally at the age where I think I’m ready, so I think it’s all happening at the right time.
What makes you ready to pursue it all the way?
Producers would always try to take me down the bubblegum route [but] that was never really me. I grew up listening to really soulful music and growing up in Texas, I liked country music. I always have gravitated to that older sound and I already look so young, people think I’m 15 just because I play 15 on TV, I’m 21. I’m at a good age where I can sing what I want to sing about.
What artists have inspired your style?
I have to thank my dad for the music taste I have, he introduced me to many things. I grew up listening to Patsy Cline and Etta James. I love soul! This EP in particular, I love kind of taking on an idea of—because I’ve been acting, as different as they are, I thought it would be really fun to explore it how, even though they’re different, I think that they’re similar in a sense that you get to play a character and it’s been kind of fun to have these sounds these different sounds in music so I’ve been really trying to explore and finding that sound.
Oh yes! Well actually it’s so funny because, she grew up in Houston and so [did] I, and I would go to this local place that she grew up singing at. I look up to her and I would look up to artists like Jennifer Lopez, because you know you got to represent. I love that they’ve been able to open the doors for girls like me and of course [they're] an inspiration.
Do you think that some fans of the show will find it difficult to embrace you as an artist if they’re not familiar with your prior work?
I hope that they can. The beauty of what just happened this past season was one of the creators and the executive producers of the show was directing the first episode and she’s gotten herself more into the musical theatre world and he wanted to collide them two. So with the first episode he directed on The Fosters, he did a musical episode and it was a Romeo and Juliet musical and I was Juliet. So fans of the show, if they didn’t know or weren’t aware that I sang, they are now, which is pretty cool.
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You have a solid EP, but there's a sense of generality. If that makes sense… Do you plan on releasing something more personal?
The second that this drops, I’m ready to work on a follow up LP. I really want to get personal and this is a fun experience, like I said I’m kind of making a splash, I’m making some noise for myself and it’s been really fun, but I’m really ready to get into the follow up LP.
Based on your experience in Hollywood, or even in the music business, is it harder to make it as a Latina without trying to alter your Mexican identity?
I definitely think that. Especially with the acting. I’ve heard every excuse under the sun that I’m “not Latin enough” or I’m “too Latin” and it’s important to erase those barriers. I always love looking for roles that aren’t so stereotypical and it’s hard because of the way Latinxs are represented on TV, it’s very difficult to break out of that.
Like I said, people like Jennifer Lopez, Selena, and many others have opened doors. You know, one thing I do regret about myself is that I don’t speak Spanish. But I think that there are many people with my background like me who don’t. I guess it’s not too late to learn, but I know I’d like to represent for that because even though I am Latina and people have this stigma towards the fact that I don’t speak Spanish, I’m representing for a certain kind of Latina as well.
I have friends who are Puerto Rican and Mexican, from two different states, who say that people who don’t speak Spanish aren’t accepted as easily. Have you ever faced any blowback from your community for not speaking Spanish on a personal level?
Just recently, someone has told me that. They were Latin and that’s the funny part about it. But, I grew up in Houston and moved to a school where no one spoke Spanish around me really. I didn’t grow up learning how to write it. My parents, even though they knew it as a first language really didn’t speak it a lot around the house so I don’t know. Like I said, I regret it. I wish I knew another language, because that would open so many more doors and it would be amazing, but I haven’t gotten a lot of blowback if that answers your question. It hasn’t happened very often.
Coming up, what was the diversity in Houston like?
The thing about Houston is that it’s one of the most diverse cities in America. My mom, who was a kindergarten teacher, taught English as a second language. And she had folks from Dubai and Japan. There were so many backgrounds around me at school.
Let’s talk about Donald Trump for a minute. How does his views on immigration make you feel as a woman of color?
Ughhhh! I don’t like the guy. I think he talks without thinking and he’s talking down on a group of people who make up the majority of the people that vote, it’s just—I don’t know what he’s thinking. It’s crazy to me that we live in the world where Donald Trump… I remember thinking how he was going to try to be president and I was thinking 'Oh that’s a joke,' but here we are. And that’s the scary part. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping he doesn’t win.
What’s your thought on the tragic death of Christina Grimmie and guns in America?
Wow. I’m completely heartbroken for her family and fans. To think that we live in a world where access to guns is so easy that people in a bad mental state can cause so much pain and harm is crazy to me. Of course it concerns me. Especially when it's occurring every day. Nothing is going to change until some changes are made towards gun laws.
Tell me about the Boo Thang merchandise you have out now?
It’s funny because when I was on the show, I said it as an ad-lib on the first episode. She said, 'Call me Miss Thang' and it stuck in a sense, people started calling me “Miss Thang” and I kind of embodied that name. I think I’m pretty sassy and that name fits me very well. But overtime, [my fans] started calling me Miss Boo Thang. So I started calling them Boo Thang. I thought it was something very universal, because a lot of people love to use the term “Boo Thang” and to use it in my merchandise is pretty cool as well. It’s something I really wanted to do for the fans, so I’m really happy that it’s all coming together.
What's the end goal?
I’ve always wanted longevity, and to make timeless music. So, hopefully with this EP and my upcoming LP I can achieve that.
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