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Darren: Staying True, Staying Grounded

Time has indeed flown too fast for Darren.

It was just in 2014 when he trended online for his performance of Jessie J.’s “Domino” at the blind auditions of “The Voice Kids,” eventually finishing as first runner-up to Lyca Gairanod. Now it’s 10 years later and, as they say, the rest is history.

But until now, that moment is something that Darren will never forget.

“’Domino’ is forever embedded in my heart,” Darren says in this exclusive FreebieMNL Spotlight interview.

“It’s really a special song for me kasi hindi ko in-expect na aabot siya doon sa Canada sa amin—nandun ako sa local TV, sa newspapers. So, it was really a crazy moment kasi akala ko, of course, Pilipinas po, ‘The Voice Kids,’ nakaabot siya sa iba’t ibang bansa, nag-worldwide trending pa siya.”

To celebrate his first 10 years in showbiz, Darren is set to hold his anniversary concert, entitled “D-10,” at the Araneta Coliseum on June 1. He says of the concert: “Siyempre, dadaanan po natin yung journey ko sa ‘The Voice Kids;’ growing up as well. Paano ako napunta dito and everything. Even the guests, lahat sila, related sa journey ko po in my career sa showbiz and even in my personal life.”

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From young singer to teen heartthrob

10 years of staying power is no easy feat in showbiz, especially now when stars just come and go. Some are able to rise to the challenge while others just eventually shy away from the limelight.

It is most especially hard for celebrities who started out young and had to transition into adulthood under the eyes of the public.

Darren admits that his “pagbibinata” was one of the challenges he had to face, especially since puberty affects one’s voice.

He explains, “Yung pag-transition po ng boses ko, going through puberty in front of the public. Yung may times na hindi ko alam paano itatawid yung isang kanta nung mga times na yun.

Yun yung time na binigyan ako ng ‘ASAP’ ng singing and dancing prod kasi before that, puro birit, puro belting. And then, they explored because I wasn’t comfortable nga with belting that much during that period [ng] puberty.”

But the transition apparently became beneficial for Darren, because focusing on such production numbers allowed him to hone his dancing skills, eventually leading him to discover the performer who he wants to be today.

Darren is also thankful that he is one of the few artists who did not have to take a break from showbiz while transitioning to adulthood. At the time, he was actually planning to go home to Canada, finish college, and just come back if the opportunity presented itself. 

But as Darren puts it: “There were plans for me to fly na, ‘tapos biglang may darating na opportunity. ‘Tapos, ‘Okay, tapos na ‘to, lipad na ako.’ ‘Tapos biglang may bago na naman na darating. So, that’s what kept me [here].”

There was even one concert where he thought it would be his last without his fans knowing.

“I thought it was gonna be…not a farewell concert naman pero parang last muna ‘to, which was a concert sa KIA Theater (now New Frontier Theater). Yung parang last set ng repertoire ko yung, ‘Okay, tama na muna, maraming salamat, but I have other things to do in my life.’ And then, after noon, may mga dumating na projects, endorsements and stuff like that. That’s why I had to stay in the Philippines, ‘tapos yun po, dire-diretso.”

Secret to longevity

Darren’s preparation for the next 10 years of his career actually started even before celebrating his showbiz anniversary.

In late 2023, Darren dropped “Espanto” from his screen name, which symbolized the ushering in of a new era as a 360-degree performer.

Darren believes that adapting to changes and riding with it has helped him keep up with the times.

“I’d say siguro yung secret sa longevity po talaga is creating your own brand, offering something new to the table, at saka consistent change—reinventing yourself all the time to be able to stay relevant as well. 

Kasi, siyempre, I’d say I’m lucky enough na sa mundo po ng mga singers, I’ve been able to keep up and stay where I’ve been for the past 10 years while also improving in my craft and finding new ways to reinvent myself and present myself to the world.

Kaya rin naging Darren na yung naging branding ko.”

Now, using the screen name Darren, he wants to take charge of his career even more.

He explains, “Yung formative years ko, ngayon pa lang talaga nangyayari, e. Kasi siyempre, coming from ‘The Voice Kids,’ bata pa lang ako, wala akong masyadong say sa gusto kong gawin sa career ko. It’s not like I didn’t want it pero kasi, hindi ko rin alam sa sarili ko pa kung ano yung gusto kong gawing brand for myself, or parang kung ano yung gusto kong ipakitang persona. Now, I am able to express myself more through music, through the music videos I put out, in the way I dress, in my performances, yung stage design—all of that. Ito talaga yung pinaka-peak ng creativity ko so far sa career ko.”

Staying grounded

But apart from the constant reinvention, Darren thinks that “staying genuine” and “humility” have helped bring him far in the industry. Even with this, Darren admits that he has had his bad days due to pressure at work.

May times po na may pagka-Stephen Tanhueco ako sa totoong buhay,” says Darren, referring to his nonchalant and sometimes rude character in “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

He continues, “Lalo na kapag pagod or nagmamadali or if I’m pressured. Kunyari, sa trabaho, lumalabas yung pagka-Stephen Tanhueco ko.”

But in those moments, people—like his parents—always remind Darren to remain grounded despite whatever success he has already attained.

“At the end of the day, yung magulang ko talaga, hindi sila naghe-hesitate na pagsabihan ako, whether it’s through text or in-person or sa tawag.  

“Until now, humility po talaga ang number one na pinapaalala nila sa akin—both my mom and my dad. Kapag may blessings na dumarating sa akin or new opportunities, bago ako mag-celebrate, they always tell me to pray and thank God, to thank the people behind that opportunity or that blessing. Kasi hindi naman mangyayari yun if it weren’t for them. And also, yung humility nga, yung parang hindi porke’t nakuha mo ‘tong gusto mo, magiging ganun lagi.

It seems as if listening to his parents has paid off as Darren remains one of the most lovable personalities in showbiz, which is evident in the number of friends he has.

“Feeling ko kaya komportable yung mga tao sa akin kasi…I’m not trying to be plastic,” he shares. “I’m just trying to be genuine. Kung may gusto kang sabihin sa akin—rant or kwento—hindi ako magpapaka-plastic sa ‘yo. At saka alam ng mga kaibigan ko yan; hindi ako nagsasabi ng sikreto ng mga kaibigan ko sa iba. Kung ano yung sasabihin mo sa akin na kwento mo, it stays between us din. Kaya feeling ko rin ang daming nagtitiwala sa akin.”

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Cannot please everyone

Despite being beloved in and outside showbiz, Darren is also aware that he cannot please everyone.

In fact, Darren has not been spared from facing issues on social media and bashing, which he first experienced when he was still in Canada.

“Then, dito siyempre, mas malala yung bashing culture natin, which I don’t get why,” says Darren about his experience in the Philippines.

Even then, Darren is not one to spare himself from reading comments like how his other friends do it.

He explains, “It comes to a point where maiinis ka na lang but then, at the same time, alam mo kung ano yung totoo, alam mo kung ano yung worth it na patulan. Alam mo na these people are just gonna be there to talk and talk and talk. So, bakit ka papatol sa mga trolls or sa mga taong wala namang kwenta yung sinasabi? Wala silang magandang idudulot sa buhay mo.”

Darren has learned where to put his energy and focus, knowing how hurtful words can drain his energy, and worse, could even lead to depression.“So, katulad nga ng sabi ni Ate Vice [Ganda], ‘Bwak, bwak, bwak, bwak!’ Yun lang talaga. Like, just forget about it.”

Darren’s biggest lesson

From “The Voice Kids” to where he is today, there’s one lesson that has stuck: “You don’t have to have a winning title to be a winner.”

Darren expounds, “Feeling ko talaga panalo na ako sa lahat ng na-experience ko sa career ko, sa buhay ko. Because, of course, the opportunities that have come to me in my life have also been able to fuel extra-curricular activities that I would like to do with my personal life. Like to bring my family around, to treat my sister, to go on personal trips and vacations na hindi ko naman in-expect na kakayaning gawin at my age. To buy my own house, to invest in properties and such when I was a teenager pa lang. So, grabe. Grabe talaga.”

But even though he has been able to achieve a lot at 23, there are still things to look forward to.

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“Of course, in the next 10 years, more concerts, more singing, more acting. Hopefully, more global projects po. In terms of releasing music, hopefully, globally naman sa susunod.

As he is thankful to his mentors and the people who believed in him, Darren is also grateful to his supporters, the Darrenatics, for being with him for 10 years.

He tells his fans, “Maraming salamat. I love you guys so much. Paulit-ulit na lang yung sinasabi ko, but there are really no other words to say than thank you, I love you, and I’m always grateful for them sa lahat po ng efforts na binibigay nila for the past 10 years.

Tumanda na akong kasama kayo, others have gotten to other ventures in their own personal lives, yung iba nagkaroon na ng pamilya, ikinasal na, which is really nice to see but they’re still there. Yung iba, nakikita ko kapag nag-ga-graduate sila, tina-tag talaga nila ako, like, ‘Thank you for being an inspiration’ and it means so much to me as well.”

Now, at 23 and having achieved a lot, Darren is more than ready to face the next 10 years of his career.

Photography Gee Plamenco
Layout Alexandra Lara
Interview and Cover Story Jimpy Anarcon
Transcription Rod Hagen
Styling Rodel Brinas
Hair Mycke Arcano
Make-up Maribeth Dionisio
Special Thanks
ABS-CBN PR, Star Magic, and Star Music

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