Orange Is the New Black star Jackie Cruz has channeled a near-death experience into beautiful music with a new single.
Titled "Melly 16," the track is a catchy, slow-tempo pop tune with strong self-confidence, survival, and empowerment vibes, reminiscent of Alessia Cara or Meghan Trainor.
The inspiration for the track comes from Cruz's journey after being involved in a tragic car accident when she was a teenager.
“I’ve been wanting to share this for a long time,” Cruz told PEOPLE about the song. “But I’ve been holding it in because I know that it’s special and it just has to be right. I’ll be honest with you, people are like, ‘She sings now?’ No, actually I’ve been singing before I got my big break.”
She then went on to share details about what she went through when she was in the car accident, revealing that she had to have brain surgery.
“They had to shave my head right away,” she says, while fighting back tears. “I had a kidney contusion, a collapsed lung, and two broken vertebrae. So my eyes were crooked and my face was crooked, I couldn’t smile.”
She was placed into a medical-induced coma and woke up two weeks later.
“Looking at myself in the mirror, not recognizing myself, was scary. I wanted to commit suicide at the time because all I ever wanted was to be an actress and a singer. I grew up just watching beautiful people on TV and I just felt like that was it for me,” she shared. “It didn’t look like me anymore. I didn’t know who it was. I was very depressed and I tried to kill myself a few times with pills.”
Eventually, Cruz learned to have a positive outlook on life again, after going through seven months of recovery with the help of a new friend named Melly, whom the song is titled after.
“There was a little girl in the hospital. She was 10 years old,” she said. “She will never walk again, but she is strong and happy and she would come by my room all the time and I never really paid attention.”
“Then we got to talking, and she told me I was pretty. She taught me that beauty is always from within,” Cruz recalled. “It’s the way you treat someone, it’s the way you are, and she saw that. She saw the strength without … she saw the beauty in me without looking at my surface.”
The final season of Orange Is The New Black premieres later this year.