At age twenty, Cruz was the highest paid exclusive VIVA artist (in the VIVA Entertainment talent roster) in history, with earnings of ₱77 million in 1997 alone. According to Viva Entertainment, she is the most successful OPM female artist of the 1990s, with combined album sales of over 300,000 units throughout her nine years as an active recording artist, and her movies totaling a gross of ₱900 million in the local box office.
Born in Manila, Philippines, Cruz began performing as a child, becoming a grand finalist of Eat Bulaga!'s Little Miss Philippines beauty pageant and grand champion of Bulilit Batang Kampeon in 1988. She signed with Viva Records in 1991 and released her debut album Donna in that same year. During this decade, she became a prominent figure in the entertainment industry, as she was one of the most sought-after entertainers in the Philippines. Her singles "Kapag Tumibok ang Puso" and "Rain" became popular singles in OPM music. In the same year that Cruz was launched as an actress, she played a supporting role alongside Tony Lambino in Mars Ravelo's Darna, which was topbilled by actress Nanette Medved.
In 1992, Cruz won as Best New Performing Artist in Awit Awards. She released Kurot sa Puso in that same year, and joined German Moreno's That's Entertainment, a daily variety show that featured young and upcoming new talents. Two years later, she released Langit na Naman, her third studio album. It was certified gold in the Philippines. it was in that same year that she starred in two drama movies, Kadenang Bulaklak alongside Vina Morales, Ana Roces and Angelu de Leon, and Pangako Ng Kahapon, together with Agot Isidro and Alice Dixson, the movie which gave her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. After the success of these movies, Cruz starred in her first soap opera entitled Villa Quintana opposite actor Keempee de Leon which also got a PMPC Nomination for Best TV Series. In 1995, she starred in college romance flicks such as Campus Girls, Okey Si Ma'am, and Love Notes: The Movie.
As a recording artist, she launched her biggest-selling album ever, Habang May Buhay, an album composed of selected movie theme songs. The album received its Quadruple platinum award, making it Donna's best-selling album so far. The cut "Only Me and You" was chosen as Awit Award's 1995 Best Ballad Recording, and Donna as Best Female Ballad Performance in an album. The album was certified 4x platinum. The single "Only Me and You" won her the Best Ballad Recording by a Female Artist. Also, a movie was made as a tie-in with the release of the movie Habang May Buhay in which she starred alongside Ian de Leon and Hilda Koronel. Before the year closed, Cruz joined de Leon as well as his mother, veteran actress Nora Aunor in the drama film, Muling Umawit ang Puso, in which she won her first acting award, a Best Supporting Actress trophy given by the Metro Manila Film Festival.
In 1996, she starred alongside Bong Revilla in Pag-Ibig Ko Sa Iyo'y Totoo and again with Ian de Leon and newcomer Jao Mapa in Dahil Tanging Ikaw. During that same year, she starred in DoReMi, the biggest movie of 1996, together with Regine Velasquez and Mikee Cojuangco. Cruz released a Christmas album entitled, Merry Christmas Donna, which included the single "Muling Sumapit Ang Pasko," written by legendary songwriter Vehnee Saturno. The album was certified platinum, and became the biggest-selling Christmas album during that year.
In 1997, she recorded a duet with American singer Jason Everly, called "Wish", son of Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers which became the biggest radio single of that year. She also recorded an Alan Menken song entitled "The Story of My Life" which was included in the Philippine release of The Best of Disney Love Songs. Her album Pure Donna was also released and garnered platinum status in just a week after it was issued in record outlets. Later that year, Cruz together with Jason Everly starred in the blockbuster film, Isang Tanong, Isang Sagot, which is her latest film to date. Also that same year, she joined Eat!...Bulaga as a co-host and performer. She was also part of SOP, a Sunday musical variety show. Cruz also starred and hosted her musical special Pure Donna, which was broadcast on GMA 7 on her twentieth birthday. The special won the Best Musical Special in the 1997 Aliw Awards. A Villa Quintana: The Movie starring Cruz and Keempee de Leon was also planned but was scrapped by Viva Films at the last minute. Before the year ended, Cruz was officially the highest-paid female celebrity in the 1990s, with annual earnings worth ₱77 million in 1997 alone, according to VIVA Entertainment.
1998-2005: Marriage, pregnancy and college graduation
In February 1998, Cruz became engaged to Yong Larrazabal, an ophthalmologist from Cebu. During that year, she was supposed to film Putikang Anghel a movie which will depict Cruz in a sexier, more mature and daring role, with Onemig Bondoc and Jake Roxas, but production was halted after Vic del Rosario, Jr., owner of Viva Entertainment, Inc. rejected the script. Cruz married Larrazabal in September of that year, and relocated to Cebu permanently. She released her final album under Viva Records in 1999, entitled Hulog ng Langit, which focused on love songs and lullabies. During that year, she gave birth to a daughter named Belle. Three years later, she gave birth to her second child, a son named Cian. Cruz made a special guest appearance in Bahay Mo Ba 'To? as Lynnette, reprising her role in Villa Quintana. A year later, she managed to successfully finish a computer degree from Cebu Doctors College in 2003.
Cruz returned to the spotlight in 2006, after appearing with her two children, Belle and Cian, for a Jollibee commercial. In 2007, Cruz gave birth to her third child, named Gio. In that same year, Cruz sang the Pampers Christmas Advertisement jingle "Payapang Daigdig". In 2008, Cruz spearheaded the Lactum's 100% Panatag Ako campaign by singing "Kailanman Panatag", a song written by Ogie Alcasid and Nicole Tolentino, and performed the song in ASAP.
In 2010, Cruz appeared as a celebrity contestant in Wowowee, and performed "I Can" with fellow celebrity contestants Dimples Romana and Nikki Valdez. A year later, Cruz appeared in the sitcom Daldalita where she played the role of Carmela de Leon-Matias, who is Daldalita's mother. This marked Cruz' first acting role in a television show since 1998's Growing Up.