With one eye closed, so that makeup can be applied on the eyelid, Moira tells YES! how her love affair with music began with Donna Cruz’s version of the AfterImage band’s love anthem, “Habang May Buhay.”
“My dad would tell me na I was three, and that would be the only song I would sing to him and my mom,” she says. Singing “Habang May Buhay” for her parents was soon cut short, when her father Mike Cruzado and mother Raquel “Rocky” Bustamante separated and had their marriage annulled.
Moira, the couple’s only child, now considers that chapter of her family life as “a little messy.” She relates that her Mommy Rocky would take her to Olongapo City in Zambales province to “hide me there,” away from Daddy Mike. Mommy Rocky hails from Olongapo City, and being with her family in that place made her feel safe for her daughter.
“My mom got custody, with my dad trying to kidnap me,” she explains. “He was, you know, in a very dark place then. And then he moved to the States with his new wife when I was five, and I didn’t see him until I was sixteen.”
Moira grew up with Mommy Rocky, who has built a career as a broadcaster and radio DJ in Olongapo City. Mommy Rocky found a new love in John Dela Torre, a pastor in a Christian church, and they got married. Moira then assumed the Dela Torre surname, and started calling her mother’s new husband Daddy John. Mommy Rocky and Daddy John subsequently had their own two daughters.
There were not too many places to go to in Olongapo City in her younger years, Moira recalls. Big malls like SM City and Harbor Point hadn’t been constructed yet. Instead, there was a small shopping center, with an even smaller commercial space beside it. There were very few coffee shops and refreshment spots that she and her friends could hang out in.
“No’ng nagbukas po ’yong McDo, ando’n kami araw-araw,” she says, adding that they usually ordered Coke float and French fries from the fast-food chain. “’ Yon lang po, e. So kahit grounded ako, okey lang.”
But Moira didn’t really give Mommy Rocky and Daddy John reasons to ground her because, in her own words, she did excellently in school. “From nursery to high school, I always had awards,” she coolly says. “I had academic excellence awards, outstanding awards.”
She also excelled in singing, a talent that she got from her mother, who, she says, “sings super well.” Like Mommy Rocky, Moira sang in church and was only allowed to listen to secular music at age 12. She remembers listening to Lea Salonga’s album, By Heart— and, instinctively, she warbles a few lines from one of the cuts from that album, “I Remember the Boy.” Then, she reminisces about watching the concert of Richard Poon at the Olongapo City Convention Center, and getting inspired about how to connect with an audience through music.
Likewise at age 12, Moira picked up the guitar and learned her first four chords from Daddy John. Looking back to that time brings out the tunes Daddy John taught her to play. She then hums a few bars of “Fixing a Broken Heart,” by the Australian pop group Indecent Obsession, and “Blackbird,” by the British music icons The Beatles.
At her very core, though, Moira was hitting all the wrong notes in those days. She was being bullied in school for being chubby, and she succumbed to the pressure of losing weight by becoming
anorexic. She ate practically nothing and drank only pineapple juice for sustenance because “just the idea of food making you fat” was deeply ingrained in her mind.
“My mom knew, but I lied about it,” she says of her self-starvation, which went on for a few months, until Daddy John finally intervened. “He forced me to eat one cup of rice in every meal. Minsan, two cups, ’ta’s sinisiksik pa niya.”
But what really roused her to confront and overcome her anorexia was journaling. She discovered that putting her thoughts and feelings into words and writing them down in a journal or diary gave her the strength and confidence not to fear food. After deciding to eat again, she realized she wanted another creative outlet, and she found it in songwriting.
“Bullying now in schools is very bad,” she says. “It’s very bad. It’s gonna affect you, especially me. Growing up, I always felt I was mature for my age. Because my friends came from nice, you know, ideal families, and so, parang they’re babied. And I was… You know, while I was babied by my parents, I was forced to thinking deeper because I was
always trying to figure out what had happened to my parents—if I was part of it, or if I caused it.
“People who come from broken families really do tend to overthink even at a young age. Pero I didn’t know that was the root of everything I went through— depression, anorexia… But the bullying and the rejections definitely catapulted me into doing those things.”
CAREER IN MUSIC
Moira reached real maturity at 16. She was reunited with her father Mike, whom she last saw when she was five years old, and they patched things up. She got to know more about Daddy Mike, who has been working in the hotel industry in the resort city of Las Vegas since he moved to the U.S., following the annulment of his marriage to Moira’s mother. She also met Daddy Mike’s wife Mary Ann, nicknamed Meanne, and the couple’s two daughters and one son. Moira has since been visiting them every time she gets the chance to travel overseas.
A year after patching things up with her father, and after graduating from high school, Moira moved from Olongapo City to Manila to study music production at the De La Salle– College of Saint Benilde. For about six years, she lived with her mother’s only sister and brother-in-law, a childless couple. But every now and then, she would visit Mommy Rocky, Daddy John, her sisters, and the rest of their extended families in Olongapo City.
Moira remembers struggling in college because her course “wasn’t what I had expected.” The Music Production degree program, according to Benilde’s website, “focuses on the study of music and its creative processes, with the use of music technology tools, in the present contemporary musical form, style, and genre.” The freshman from Olongapo City, on the other hand, was leaning towards music making and performing. So, she eventually dropped out.
She decided to focus on carving out a name in the music industry with the help of her manager Erickson Raymundo, whose Cornerstone Entertainment Inc. also oversees the entertainment careers of Sam Milby, Richard Poon, Erik Santos, Yeng Constantino, and KZ Tandingan, to name a few.
Moira had known Erickson, whom she calls Tito Erick, for a long time through her aunt, who happens to be his best friend. The manager was then working as a nurse, and he and Moira’s aunt were into some kind of a networking business.
“He would sleep over in Olongapo,” she recalls. “One time, he fell asleep on our couch. He was too thin, and my lola sat on him! Hindi siya napansin.”
Years later, when Moira was already writing songs and Erickson had started managing talents, her aunt had him listen to the works of the promising musician, who was then only 14 years old. He liked what he heard.
“So he took me in, and that’s how it happened,” Moira says. “Parang I really feel like everything is perfectly orchestrated talaga by God. I feel like everything really did happen for a reason.”
But Moira had to pay her dues by undergoing training and serving as front act in other artists’ shows. She also auditioned for singing competitions, such as the first season of The Voice Philippines in 2013.
She didn’t fare well in those auditions. “Out of everyone in the group, I’d be the one that didn’t get in,” she says. She didn’t lose heart, though, thanks to her Tito Erickson. “He would always just tell me, ‘With you, it’s just a matter of timing. We have to wait for the perfect time.’ He’d just always say that perfect time is God’s time. And then, when last year happened, he said, ‘I told you, just timing.’”
And that perfect timing came with the release in August 2016 of Camp Sawi, a seriocomic flick directed by Irene Villamor about how women—played by Bela Padilla, Arci Muñoz, Andi Eigenmann, Yassi Pressman, and Kim Molina— deal with a broken heart. The movie’s theme song, “Malaya,” written and interpreted by Moira, encapsulated not only the pain but also the nobility in letting go of a loved one.
The song went into heavy rotation in radio stations and other music channels, so that long after the movie’s run ended, its heart-wrenching words and haunting melody stayed in people’s consciousness. Moira has been on a roll since then. “It makes sense,” she muses. “Years before that, I was much thinner. I was more active in playing the guitar. I feel, like, I was more prepared before for the industry. And then my songs started becoming hits, and I was chubbs, I had my cheeks back. I’m in a relationship now. It’s not common, it’s uncommon.
“What’s the term? It’s unconventional, what happened. Like, it happened at a time when I did not expect it, and that’s how I can prove that it really is timing and not strategies. Because the strategies worked after. And so, Tito Erick—his name on Instagram is visionerickson—he is really a visionary.”
It may have taken Moira a long while to get to where she is now, both in her family life and in her professional career, but she says that where she is now is worth all the hardships and heartaches that she had to go through.
She flashes a satisfied smile when told that she now has two fathers and mothers, and a total of five siblings, four girls and a boy, all of whom, Ate Moira says, know how to sing and are quite talented.
“I know, I really love it!” she beams. “One of the things that I’m most grateful to God is being close to my siblings. Kasi the one next to me sa mom ko is fifteen or fourteen, so mga ten na ang age gap namin. The one naman sa dad ko is twenty-one. I didn’t get to grow up with her until she was eleven, no’ng first time kami nag-meet. So I was very scared that, you know, because of the age gap and the distance, I won’t be close to my siblings. But, by God’s grace, I love them. We’re very close when we’re together.”
Moira relates that her sisters in Olongapo City are very much into Korean pop and drama series. She isn’t much into K-pop, so she just watches Koreanovelas with them, and “we just eat junk food.” When she’s in Las Vegas, she usually bonds with her sisters there by trying out new coffee shops.
“I think last year was the most I’ve ever gone to the States in a year,” she says. “I went to the States three times last year just to see my family, just to spend time with my family. My boyfriend paid for our tickets for Christmas, kasi he wanted to ask my dad for his blessing...” For maybe her hand in marriage? Her pretty face turns red—and not because of the blush makeup on her cheeks. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she replies, giggling. “Maybe.”
But she ends her earlier statement with what her boyfriend Jason Hernandez really asked her Daddy Mike: “Blessing to just be with me.”
The visibly in-love recording and concert star goes on talking about Jason and how their seven-year friendship blossomed into a romance that has been going on for a year and a month as of this writing.
“We were classmates,” she says. “But we didn’t like each other at all. I thought he was yabang. And then we both grew up, and then we broke up with our exes sabay. But we didn’t like each other pa din. And then, when he’d liked someone, he would ask me to proofread [his messages to that girl], or like, you know,
things like that. I was like, ‘I don’t like you talaga.’
“And then it just changed last, last December. Everything just changed. And my lola put it perfectly. She said something like, ‘I think you can call this a miracle.’ I said why, and then she said, ‘Because God protected you from each other even while being together, until the time was right.’ And I got to know him with all his baho, not with his best foot forward.”
Moira has found a creative partner in Jason, who, unlike her, completed his studies in music production. He put in a couple of ideas for her debut album, Malaya, and cowrote at least six songs that will be included in her next recordings.
Jason and Moira may be playing beautiful music together, but wedding bells may not be ringing for them soon. For starters, she’s bent on going back to school either in the U.S. or in the Philippines. Abroad, she’d like to take up short courses in songwriting in institutions in Los Angeles, California. Here, she wants to take up culinary arts or hotel management as a backup plan.
Meantime, though, she’s simply living her dream.
“I don’t want to sound yabang about this or anything,” she points out. “But I felt, like, I was called to do something like it. I didn’t know I was gonna be famous, but I did know that I was gonna make music, and, you know, use it to reach out to people, to encourage, and to send the message of hope… I’ve never had any other direction for my life than this.”
Moira believes that music is her calling. “With or without fame, this is what I’m called to do,” she explains. “I had to keep going. I went to the States last year, and I didn’t want to go back because I felt, like, there was more happening for me in...
Moira has overcome a number of adversities in her young life—a broken home, bullying, depression, anorexia, psoriasis—and she’d like to reach out to those suffering from their own issues. “I want them to know that they are beautiful because they are,”...