A New Era: The Education of Darren Espanto

Perhaps one of the most prominent and well-known graduates from the very first The Voice Kids season in the Philippines is Darren Espanto, then a young 13-year old Canada-raised talent who flew to the Philippines to pursue his passion for performing.

Quickly, Filipinos grew enamored with this teenage boy who dominated the stage with inexplicable charisma and stage presence well beyond his years, while belting out an upbeat Jessie J song that perfectly showcased his impressive vocal range. His talent got him through to the finals under the mentorship of Coach Sarah Geronimo, and his career has only climbed incredible heights since.

Seven years later and Espanto is now 20 years old, well into the early stages of young adulthood. He’s had his fair share of concerts down the road, with incredible opportunities to collaborate with some of the industry’s most respected artists at such a tender age. As we look back on his career thus far, he shared with Rank Magazine that he owes it all completely to his family on how he’s been able to stay grounded amid his early rise to fame.

“I joined The Voice Kids when I was 13 years old, and that’s really when you’re figuring out things in life, and you’re developing your own personality. You’re about to go through your teenage years. So, what’s kept me humble is my family and friends who always remind me to stay humble, and huwag maging mayabang kahit gaano kalayo yung marating mo kasi everything you have now can easily be taken away from you,” he expressed.

He also noted that this support system has been instrumental in keeping him sane amid the crazy times we live in. After staying with his family in Canada for the duration of the lockdown, he was able to truly spend some quality time with loved ones for the first time in six years. That also meant washing the dishes, cleaning up, and doing regular household chores his parents wouldn’t let him off the hook for. Despite the chores’ dreariness, he shared that it allowed him to never let his head get too big with the “celebrity life”—something all young personalities have to deal with as they’re met with unconventional lives and reputations.

But, like any performer during this time, Espanto yearned to be on stage again. Although he kept his regular performing and hosting duties on the virtual ASAP world, he was itching to be physically back with his colleagues again. And after receiving the perfect song to mark his much-awaited comeback to the Philippines, the gigil to put on a show only intensified.

Fast forward to today, and after cementing his name into the local music industry as one of the few male performers who could easily move a room with his powerful ballads, while also getting it to dance with groovy pop music, he is now ready to open a new chapter in his artistic journey with an entirely new sound.

Image courtesy of Universal Music Group

“20 na rin ako and we kind of wanted to let people know that Darren isn’t that just kid you saw on The Voice Kids. He’s definitely evolving now, he’s more mature. And we want to let people see my growth.”

This new era from him is definitely a far cry from the ballads he used to sing before. But it’s a lot closer to his heart, and who he wants to be as an artist and human being. Something that stuck with him as an impressionable young performer since his competition days is Sarah G’s constant advice to “always sing from the heart.”

But starting out so young, he admitted to not having religiously followed, or fully understood this advice throughout his career, but now that he’s older, he opens up being able to connect with the songs more genuinely, an organic progression that slowly allowed him to build the artist that he is realizing himself to be.

“When you’re a kid, you just sing. Now, that I’m older I understand the songs more,” he shared.

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This is where his latest single “Tama Na” steps into the picture.

The soulful, R&B-sounding, track is Espanto’s comeback single after his quarantine period with his family in Canada. Now that he’s returned to his roots, allowed him to go on full throttle in bringing his new sound and new venture to more people who have since supported him.

“Tama Na” introduces a more mature Darren Espanto sound and image that’s nothing like we’ve ever heard from him before. Written and produced by fellow The Voice Kids graduate and chart-topping singer, songwriter, and producer Zack Tabudlo, the song masks a painful message behind the groovy exterior.

“The song is upbeat but the lyrics—it’s like a LANY-type of song. The lyrics are just meant to hurt you, but the beat is a happy beat so it’s mixed emotions,” Espanto shared. He revealed that the demo was written and finalized in two days by Tabudlo over Zoom meetings, and his own vocals were recorded in his own room.

Image courtesy of Universal Music Group

The transition to this new chapter was organic for Espanto and his team, as he emphasized the importance of continuing to explore and experiment as an artist. He’s committed to stay far, far, away from a singular box. He also attributed this to the natural course of growing up and finding one’s own voice and identity. Starting in the industry so young is understandably difficult, and through this project, he’s able to show just how much he’s grown, and who he is now as a young adult.

“Before when I was a kid, I just kept saying yes to song requests. Now I know what I want in terms of my musicality, what I wanna sing, and what image I want to portray on TV when people see me, or on social media. I guess it’s also part of growing up, deciding on what I want and yung growth na gusto kong mangyari sa’kin as an artist and person.”

On top of this new single and the music video that’s yet to be revealed, Darren is also ecstatic to really usher in the new era with the “Home Run” virtual concert he’s currently preparing for. Now that he’s back in the Philippines, and performing on an actual stage, he expressed his buzz over doing what he loves, and being surrounded by people he’s worked with before since his early years in the industry.

“It’s a new Darren,” he teased.

A lot of the songs on the setlist are tracks Espanto personally handpicked himself, but with unexpected renditions he is thrilled to share and bring to his army of supporters. He shared that it’s very much likely that the audience won’t get to guess what the track is from the title because they’ve worked so hard to differentiate it. “Para it’s not just a minus one na pinatugtog, gusto talaga naming ma-experience ng tao virtually yung concert experience talaga,” he noted.

Image courtesy of Universal Music Group

The concert is directed by Paolo Valenciano, a stage director who’s worked with the biggest names in Philippine entertainment. He’s also witnessed Espanto’s growth since he was just starting out in the industry, and he excitedly shared Direk Paolo’s comment after watching his rehearsal for the first time after years: “He told me, ‘I’ve never seen you this confident before. I’ve never seen this Darren before.’”

It’s definitely going to be a treat for anyone who’s watched Darren Espanto since he was a teenager to experience the concert themselves and see his growth firsthand. And the exciting thing about it is that he still has so many years ahead of him to explore even further and solidify his unique sound even more. At 20-years old, he has already achieved so much, but the path to his musical journey is all the more promising now, more than ever.

“I want to come to the day where I make a mark in the industry where I have these songs that people know are from me. I want to keep experimenting, and I want to keep trying different genres out as well. I wanna see where my voice takes me,” he emphasized.

And his voice will undoubtedly take him to incredible heights, even more impressive than what he has already achieved thus far. As one of the most promising voices of his generation, Darren already has a solid foundation to back him up, and a remarkable talent that will fly him wherever he wishes to go.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CO2OpkJBleY/

Interview by Leo Balante

Images courtesy of MCA Music Inc. (Universal Music Group)

Photography by Andrea Beldua

Grooming by Mac Igarta

Styling by Rodel Briñas

Catch Darren Espanto’s Home Run virtual concert on June 19, 8PM, with a rebroadcast on June 20 at 10AM. Get your tickets at https://www.ktx.ph/events/30475/darren-home-run