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Darren Espanto Takes Us Through How To Make It To 10 Years Doing What You Love

On memories, mentors, and making it.

It takes a village, and handfuls of grit, to make it ten years under the spotlight, and as Darren Espanto celebrates this milestone, he’s not letting up.

Related: 7 Of Darren Espanto’s Best Songs That You Need To Add To Your Playlist ASAP

No one ever said living most of your life in front of blinding lights and cameras that only seem to grow in size and number is the most comfortable existence. But those dedicated to pursuing their dreams have to give up a thing or two sometimes—and sometimes, they know this straight out of the gate.

For one artist, who’s celebrating a decade in the music, acting, and hosting industry this year, navigating the world of showbiz means being prepared for all the glitter and grime, managing your expectations, and surrounding yourself with good people.

Such insight at 23 years of age isn’t surprising, given how long Darren Espanto has been singing, dancing, and performing here in the Philippines and even abroad. Through the years, the Filipino-Canadian artist and The Voice Kids Philippines alum has grown from being a coiffed 13-year old singing contestant to a seasoned multi-hyphenate artist. And his career shows no sign of slowing down.


darren espanto stephen tanhueco d10 concert can't buy me love

“It hasn’t felt like it’s been ten years,” he says. “But when I look back and see everything I’ve done, I’m like, ‘oh yeah, it’s definitely been ten years.'” Darren Espanto sits across from us one afternoon in May, busy in between schedules but engaged nonetheless. Besides preparing for his ten-year anniversary concert D10, the artist just performed with Gary Valenciano at the industry veteran’s concert that weekend, and was also busy hosting noontime variety show It’s Showtime almost every day.

He also just wrapped filming romantic drama Can’t Buy Me Love (2023-2024), where he starred as Stephen Tanhueco, a wealthy young man vying for the affection of Caroline (Belle Mariano), who’s in love with Bingo (Donny Pangilinan). Busy as he is, Darren takes the time to reminisce on his work as a child star, acting on Canadian TV and singing on reality shows.

Urged and supported by his parents whether back in Calgary or here in Manila, he’s been singing and performing basically since he could walk. At ten years old, he auditioned for YTV reality show The Next Star Season 5 (2012), and made it as a Top 6 finalist. The year after that, he guested on teen sitcom Life With Boys—a show with clips that pop up on social media every now and then.

“When I look back at clips like that, parang grabe, I can say that my 11-year old self—that we kind of made it.” He clarifies he’s not embarrassed about it—all that got him to where he is now—but he still cringes. From his voice to his acting, his skills are far more refined now. And though it seems daunting to be thrust into the spotlight so young, what with the insane schedules and the amount of work that had to be put in, he knew what he was signing up for.

“I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” he shakes his head. “Because music really is my passion. And I’ve always loved to sing. I’ve always loved to perform.”


darren espanto stephen tanhueco d10 concert can't buy me love

Though something he’s wanted for a very long time, making it in the industry did not come without its fair share of hurdles. Starting his singing career very young, Darren had to overcome puberty right in the public eye. In his mid-to late-teens, the singer found himself having to adjust performances to his changing voice, once able to cut through songs like Chandelier or Domino. “Eventually,” he shares, “I just stopped singing songs that I wanted to sing, because I was so scared to be risking performances where I wasn’t sure if I could hit [certain] notes or not.”

His safe space became ASAP Natin ‘To, which allowed him to perform in a way he was comfortable with. He ventured into dancing more, as well. But soon enough, he adjusted and went back to his roots, singing ballads like his original Sasagipin Kita. He found new techniques and learned from others that he could use his rounder, more soulful voice to his advantage.

An artist’s fear of having to let go of what they knew was their comfort zone can easily be attributed to their knowledge of how ruthless and relentless people can be when they criticize.

“You have to have the mentality to be able to overcome bashing,” he muses. “Have a strong soul. Because that’s really one of the major things, especially now because of social media, people are so easy to judge you or spit out their comments without even knowing the facts.”

“Growing up in Canada, I’d see all of these young celebrities being criticized for anything they would do,” Darren continues. “And then I became one of them. So I was like, ‘oh, this is what you wanted, Darren. So this is what you signed up for.‘ And it’s something that never really surprised me. I knew that there’s going to be criticism. I knew there would be bashing included. You’re not going to be able to please everyone all the time.”

Something he’s honed over the years is a realistic perspective that grounds him, but also lets him push forward. He admits to having learned to lower his expectations so as not to be disappointed, but to always expect the unexpected. “There are things that you will want and you won’t always get,” he says. “Which is a part of life. Not even just in the industry—it’s a part of life. But you have to have the confidence to be able to still do what you want to do.”

Since he was a kid, Darren’s been dreaming of signing autographs and starring in TV series and movies aside from just performing. And he’s been able to dip his toes into all of these ventures because of that confidence—and a network of support. “It’s nice to have people trust you to do all these things at once.”


darren espanto stephen tanhueco d10 concert can't buy me love

If you’ve watched the young artist on noontime TV, it’s clear that Darren’s wit and charm comes through in his hosting, making him a welcome addition to It’s Showtime. It’s not a façade, rather a combination of his personality and all of the influences and inspirations that have helped him become the person he is.

“I grew up surrounded by hosts, as well,” he says, referring to personalities like Robi Domingo and Luis Manzano. “I would kind of get the ‘hosting energy’ from them.” He recounts how they would always be open to his questions, giving him tips and feedback. Robi himself would critique his hosting work, which Darren appreciates. “I would rather have that kind of straight up constructive criticism than for me to be always told na, ‘ah, okay ka, okay ka.‘”

His idols have become his mentors beyond the stage and the screen. They teach him the lay of the land and the tricks to not just make it, but to keep him going, grounded and driven despite what may come his way. It’s a stacked network of support he’s got—and he’s never anything less than grateful. From music production to assuring him his purpose is to sing, these mentors have constantly guided and supported him, even when doubt creeps in.

“That’s something I always remember,” he says of advice he’s learned from Gary V. “‘Don’t lose that drive.’ It’s okay to get burnt out, to be overwhelmed. Pero at the end of the day, always remember why you started this in the first place.”

There’s no better showcase of these relationships he’s built over the last ten years than his D10 concert, which features six special guests—all of whom have made an impact on Darren’s life and vice versa. “I’m very blessed to have these people in my life,” he reiterates. Gary V, Sarah Geronimo, Ogie Alcasid, Erik Santos, Vice Ganda, and Lyca Gairanod will be joining the artist on his anniversary concert, making it not just a grand show, but a fitting celebration of his journey so far.


darren espanto stephen tanhueco d10 concert can't buy me love

Looking back, Darren realizes that the pressure he was under as he grew up in the spotlight wasn’t ideal. “Parang hindi mo na na-eenjoy kung ano yung meron ka.” But here and now, he’s more conscious of where he’s going, growing wiser every day.

Although Darren has kept his dreams close to his heart for over ten years now, he’s open to new ones. And he doesn’t let up. Looking ahead, he shares that he wants to finish college somewhere down the line (“Maybe something in business.”), do more international music and acting projects, and—this one sooner rather than later—go on a mini vacation after his concert. And yeah, he deserves it.

The Darren Espanto of today is a far cry from the young kid belting it out on the The Voice Kids stage in 2014, though they share the same eyes full of ambition. If he were to send a message to that kid from ten years ago, (which ends up a fitting reminder for the Darren of today), it would be to “Stay driven. Don’t lose that passion in you. You’re here na nga, eh—ngayon ka pa ba titigil?”

Darren Espanto’s D10 concert will happen at the SMART Araneta Coliseum on June 1. Images courtesy of ABS-CBN PR.

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