INTERVIEW: Singing Sensation Darren Espanto on Singapore, Darrenatics, and the death of Christina Grimmie
Described as The Total Performer in The Voice Kids Philippines, Darren Espanto proves that he’s not just a talented all-rounder. Despite being known for his powerful, Whitney Houston-like vocals, Espanto also dances onstage and even engages himself in photography and editing.
Born and raised in Canada, the Filipino-Canadian singer sat with us for an intimate interview where he opens up about being in Singapore, receiving attention at a young age, and the passing of fellow The Voice alumni Christina Grimmie.
We’ve heard that you were at a campus invasion yesterday. Did you get to hang out with Greyson Chance and De Fam?
Yeah, it was fun. I was with De Fam and then after we did our presscon, Greyson was already there waiting, it was his turn after. We’ve actually been seeing each other, us three, yesterday. We went to the same locations and always took our turns. They’re really nice people. They’re really laid back and chill people. Greyson is also a funny laidback kind of guy as well.
We know that it’s not your first time here in Singapore. Do you have any favorite spots to visit here?
My favorite place would have to be Singapore cause I love going on rides…. Ohmygod, I meant Universal Studios Singapore! I’m having a mental block! [laughs]
What local delights have you tried, any favorites?
I think here they like to put spicy chili sauce. I like spicy food that’s why I like the barbeque stingray, cause it had all the chili sauce on top. Chicken rice is pretty good. I’ve tried shaved ice with the different flavors and colors on it. I also tried the oyster omelette and pepper soup.
Can you tell us more about your new album, Be With Me? Is there a certain theme that you want the record to capture?
There is no certain theme in this album. It sounds more mature than the first one. We wanted the title to be “Be With Me” because, I just wanna tell everyone to be in my journey in music, the “Darrenatics,” to be with me in my life as Darren Espanto.
Gaining popularity at such a young age as well as selling out your first ever concert almost 2 years ago now, who or what keeps you grounded?
I’d say it would be my friends [and] my family, of course. Because they never treated me differently, it’s still the same. I guess always remembering at the end of day who I was before all of this just helps me stay grounded. Always remembering that this isn’t forever, you know, show business. So that’s another thing that helps.
What do you miss about Canada?
I’d say my house, my room, and my friends of course. The places I used to go to when I was just 4 years old, going around to the parks and visiting places. Also, the snow and going camping.
If you could choose between Canada and the Philippines, which one would you pick?
If I could choose one… I don’t know but I was fine with just visiting the Philippines when I was younger. So I say I’d like to stay in Canada but then when I’m in Canada I’d miss the Philippines, and when I’m in the Philippines, I miss Canada. So I don’t know which one to choose. If I could just bring all the Darrenatics to Canada, why not? [laughs] Yeah, I’d stay in Canada if I could just bring all of them, you know?
So Canada is your home, basically?
We’re still based there. It’s my home, but then also all the Darrenatics makes me feel at home.
It can get pretty crazy there in the Philippines, especially the fans. How do you deal with all the attention at such a young age?
Of course, there’s pressure and you have to know what to do and what not to do because you’re a role model to younger people. How do I deal with it? It’s just something that you have to take day by day and just staying still even though everyday is so hectic and it’s crazy sometimes. You just have to try to relax as well.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done to you?
Well, she pulled my boxers. It was a crowded mallshow [in the Philippines]. When they were escorting me to the exit, everyone was crowding around me and then she decided to just pull my boxers and I was like “What the heck she doesn’t wanna let go!” [laughs] When I looked at her, she was laughing, and I was like “What?!” Then she eventually go off for eventually like 10 seconds, but that was the first full on wedgie I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Was this a teenager?
What are some of your hobbies besides singing and dancing?
I like to edit and create mashups sometimes compose music. I like making videos and vlogs and taking photos. I want to go back and try and learn more alto saxophone and piano.
Do you have any favorite spots in the Philippines?
I actually haven’t travelled much around the Philippines, but I also always love going to the go-kart place in Tarlac ‘cause I get to go really fast and it’s just fun to go go-karting. There’s a lot of places in the Philippines where there’s nice views. I’ve been to all around the Philippines, actually for tours and stuff. But I never get to look around the place, like I just stay there from the hotel to the venue and then back to the hotel and then fly back to Manila. So I’d like to explore more of the Philippines, but I don’t have a favorite place yet.
Do you get to see your family often?
Well, my mom has to get back and forth [between the Philippines and Canada] every 2 months cause she has to work and take care of me as well. Then my Dad stays in Canada to take care of my little sister. Sometimes they go here [the Philippines] for very special occasions. Then sometimes, I go there just to have a vacation with them and just relax. Sometimes when I have a show in Canada or the U.S., they go there so that we could be together.
How does it feel to be so independent at such a young age? Did you foresee any of this?
No, I’m actually a very irresponsible kid, I’d say. [laughs] But I guess doing this now I’m getting a bit more responsible everyday and becoming more mature everyday as well.
So you’re having your next concert on the 25th in the Philippines, what can your Filipino fans expect from the show that they haven’t experienced during your first concert?
Well it’s called “D Total Experience” because The Total Performer is my nickname in The Voice Kids and I wanna bring them the total experience in the concert. I’m just putting everything together. There’s big production numbers, but there’s also parts where you might cry and parts where you just wanna dance and scream and shout. I’d say this concert is more personal.
From your previous interviews, you’ve mentioned that you used to listen to Sarah Geronimo even when you’re growing up in Canada. But could you share with us who are the artists that you look up to and are currently listening to right now? What’s on your playlist?
Well for me, I listen to a lot of foreign music more than the U.S. and also some Canadians as well. But if it were in the Philippines, I listen to James Reid, Sarah Geronimo, whatever’s new there I guess. When I like what I here on the radio, I automatically go and just save it to my phone via iTunes.
What advice can you give young aspiring artists like yourself?
Just be yourself and all of us have dreams that we want to come true someday and we have goals in life. Just keep believing in yourself, be confident. For me, I never knew that I’m gonna make if this far. So if it’s not happening now, it’s gonna happen sooner or later and just be unique. Always pray.
What are your thoughts on the latest Christina Grimmie incident?
It’s so sad. For me, it’s ironic because it was a fan that shot her and actually it was a fan that was saying, “One day I’ll marry Christina Grimmie.” So I’d say that was obsession. Like if he can’t be with her, he shot her, and then he killed himself. He thought they could be together in the afterlife. For my thoughts, I’ll be honest I was scared now to go to meet and greets and do mall shows. But it’s very sad and it’s a tragic incident because Christina was very unique and funny. She had amazing vocals. I was shocked, at first I didn’t think it was true. But then 3 bullets, it really could kill.
No worries, Singapore is safe.
The 15-year-old superstar has the demeanor and grace of a young adult. He talks with poise and maturity, but at the same time carries the humility his parents’ always reminded him to keep. There’s no questioning the overwhelming love and support Espanto receives from his fanbase, Darrenatics.