EXCLUSIVE: Gaby Moreno Talks 'Elena of Avalor' & How She Feels About Her First Grammy Nomination

EXCLUSIVE: Gaby Moreno on Voicing a Character in 'Elena of Avalor' &
Disney Channel/Todd Wawrychuk

Gaby Moreno is keeping very busy!

The 34-year-old Guatemalen, who sings the theme song for Elena of Avalor, is voicing the character Marlena on a special Christmas episode of the Disney Channel fave.

In "Navidad," Elena will bring all of the communities of Avalor together to share their own holiday traditions, but Doña Paloma (voiced by Constance Marie) has a different idea in mind and tries to put a wrench in the plan. We spoke to Moreno all about her history with the show, her character and being nominated for her very first Grammy. Read it all in the exclusive interview below: 

First Look: Disney's First Latina Princess Elena of Avalor is Getting a Movie!

Can you tell us a little about how the opportunity to sing the theme song of Elena of Avalor arose?

A couple of years I did a Christmas album called Posada and this album contains songs that are traditional Latin American Christmas songs. They were songs that I grew up singing when I was in my church choir and just my favorite songs from the season. It was great because I did a concert in LA and little did I know that the creator of the Elena of Avalor series was at the concert. He picked up a copy of the record and later he told me that he was listening to the album while he was creating the Navidad episode and that was the inspiration for the music. I got the call to do the voice for one of the characters on the episode as well as sing a song from my album called Hacia Belén Va Una Burra Rin Rin. It’s a song that is very popular in America and of course I was very excited to get this news and to be a part of a Disney production. Later, they asked me to sing the theme song in English and I ended up translating the words to Spanish so I can sing it in both languages.  

Being Latina yourself, what’s it been like to be part of the journey with Disney’s first Latina princess?

It’s an honor! There is definitely a sense of pride that we have as Latinos that comes from the culture. I think for me personally, coming from Guatemala, it’s something that means a lot. Everywhere I go I make sure to tell people where I’m from because it gives me a lot of pride and I think it’s a wonderful thing to show that and to celebrate that diversity. It’s about the culture that creates empathy and that’s a very important thing nowadays.

Can you talk to us about the character that you are voicing on Elena of Avalor?

Her name is Marlena and she lives in the town of Avalor. She plays guitar and sings. In this episode you are going to see her singing a traditional Christmas song because the episode is about showing Elena the traditions that they have in Avalor. She teaches her this song and she sings it with other musicians from the town. It’s very festive and I can’t wait to see it because I haven’t seen it yet. I’m looking forward to that.

What do you enjoy doing over the holidays with family and friends?

I like to see as many friends and family as possible because I don’t get to see them very often. My whole family is in Guatemala and I am here in Los Angeles by myself and I travel constantly so I don’t get to see them. For me it’s so important to reconnect with them whether it’s me going to Guatemala or them coming to visit me here. Just being around them and getting to reconnect with my family and my roots to reenergize for the New Year is great.

What would you say are some quirky Christmas traditions you and your family take part in?

Something that we do is that around midnight everybody goes out and there are fireworks going off all over the place. It feels like it’s the fourth of July [Laughs]. We have stuff like firecrackers, volcansitos and estrellitas. I know it all seems dangerous to play with those kinds of things but if you have responsible parents then it can be a lot of fun. That’s one of the big things that we do. Another thing is getting together the family and eating tuchitos, which is another version of a tamale but smaller and drinking ponche, listening to music, dancing, laughing and just having a good time. Of course, opening the presents at midnight because for us Christmas Eve is when we do that. The kids will stay up until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning playing with their new toys.

Congratulations on your Grammy nomination, where were you when you found out?

It’s amazing! [Laughs]. I was in Guatemala and the night before I went to bed really late and I was in my hotel room. Usually when I go to Guatemala I stay with my mom but this was a very fast trip because I just went there to play a private show and they put me up in a hotel. When I go to sleep I set my phone on airplane mode and people were calling me really early and of course I wasn’t getting any of their messages and then I heard the phone of my hotel room ringing. It was my mom and she told me. She was screaming and I said ‘oh my god, what’s happening’ and she said ‘You got nominated.’ It was huge and of course I had to tell everybody from my family.

How does it feel like for you to be nominated for the first time?

It’s an incredible feeling and also very surreal. [Laughs] I still find it hard to register that I’ve been nominated for an actual Grammy and especially because of the other nominees that are in the category, which are incredible artists that I admire and have been admiring for a very very long time. I feel sort of like the underdog in that category but it’s still a huge honor. I am very proud of this record and everybody who was involved with it and made it happen. 

Don't forget to watch Elena of Avalor's "Navidad" episode tonight, December 9 at 7:30 p.m., and take a peek at the episode below: