PARCINQ ANNIVERSARY ISSUE: The Coming of Age of Darren
In a mix of brand new and worn-out clothes on a bed too small for my ‘mature’ 20-year-old body, I’ve stayed up wondering (and wandering) what people had meant when they said “growing up.” It’s weird to be at a place in your life where you’re both too young and too old. But, what young person hasn’t been in a tangled mess with these thoughts?
On Darren: Full Ensemble, Chris Diaz
One minute you’re the shy doe-eyed kid terrified to speak in front of a crowd; the next, you’re a gangly teen of awkward limbs taking life as it comes. And somewhere along the way, you wound up an adult. They say growing up means letting go of the kid stuff, but do we really have to break away from the past to make way for the new?
Darren takes it differently. He’s pretty much been in the limelight as an artist and singer since he was a fresh-faced 13-year-old (*cough* a 10-year-old if you know his history). From young and old, we’ve seen him through singing competitions, variety shows, performances, and so on. And now, he’s a full-fledged 20-year-old in a new era, from the good boy image to a mature one.
But, what does it really mean to shift between that? “I still want to keep my good boy image, but I want to let people know that Darren’s grown up now, as well. Like, you could have this wholesome image but still be able to show a more mature side to you,” he says. Growing up doesn’t have to mean growing out of things. It can mean growing anew by making way for other parts of yourself while keeping the things you hold dear close to you. In the end, they’re all parts that makeup ‘you.’
The Perks of Being a Child Star
Most of our first looks into Darren is as the “total performer” contestant for the first season of The Voice Kids back in 2014. He left both the judges and audience in awe as a powerful yet stable belter who can effortlessly hit the high notes.
But, before the pre-teen him, there was the kid him, who was the complete opposite of that—a shy, reserved kid that was too scared to sing in front of any audience. Until, he auditioned for the fifth season of The Next Star, a Canadian singing competition show, where he finished as first runner-up. You might be wondering: Why would a shy kid like that make the immediate jump to competition shows? Well...Let’s just say he got a ‘little’ nudge from his parents.
He funnily shares the story: “My parents were really the ones who pushed me to start singing in public because they saw I wanted to become a performer and an artist so badly. And then, when I was 10, my parents told me we were going to the mall and pagdating namin dun, it wasn’t a mall. Nakatulog ako sa car, paggising ko nasa auditions na kami. Wala na akong choice. Nai-submit na nila yung info ko, yung mga minus-one ko. Kaya pala pinagdamit nila ako.”
[“And then, when I was 10, my parents told me we were going to the mall and when we got there, it wasn’t a mall. Because I fell asleep in the car, I woke up and we were at the auditions already. I had no other choice. They already submitted my info, my minus-one. No wonder they had me dress up nicely.”]
On Darren: Accesories from WHATDAPPERSWANT
But, that timid persona shaved away the more he went on stage and sang his heart out. He became a new person ready to get out into the world. “I kind of liked singing in public already, and I kind of gained the confidence to be able to perform in public, so I started to sing more as a front act. I also started singing in school events and stuff like that,” he says. What came next was The Voice Kids. And we all know how that went.
Quickly, blessings on blessings came one after another for Darren. Opportunities came and went past. And he found himself pursuing them all for the passion for music and performing, the drive to keep on going as it comes. In fact, his first full-length, self-titled album reached Double Platinum, and he became the youngest artist to perform a major sold-out concert at MOA Arena. He represented the country as one of 11 singers for the ASEAN summit, he’s been handpicked by Disney to perform a rendition of A Whole New World with Morissette Amon, he’s ventured into acting through the movie, The Hows Of Us, and he’s started pursuing his YouTube Channel including a BTS Dynamite dance cover that reached 1.1M views. That’s a whole lot of achievements for someone who’s just turned 20.
But, behind the scenes, it also comes with its own set of pressures. Growing up in the business is tough enough, but add in being a young kid between all that in the age of social media. At one point, he even had his own worries about puberty and his changing voice affecting his singing career—no matter how normal of a stage in life it is. It makes me wonder about being so ‘perceived’ in that context, having to be a positive force 24/7 in that kind of industry, and getting all that direct access to what others say about you. Showbiz is a risky business with a whole lot of highs and lows, after all.
But, according to him, there will always be those days, and it’s okay to go through those downs. It’s okay to go through off days because we’re all human—a quality we all forget when we see people on screen go through the motions. “You have to hit rock bottom in your life to be able to find out what solution you could make and how to avoid it in the future and how to be a better person, as well,” he says.
At the end of the day, he has a great support system backing him up—the same ones that have kept him a humble, down-to-earth guy. Family, friends, and even fans like the Darrenatics have kept him afloat. And against all odds, music, as he describes it: “It’s something I fight for.”
On Darren: Pink Trenchcoat, Austeen Soriano
The Eye-Catcher in the Rye
In my initial set of questions, I wondered what it meant to have a new and old type of Darren. Where did that past Darren end, and where did the mature Darren begin? But, what I was missing out on is that being a grown-up version of yourself doesn’t always mean a whole new person. No matter how different he may look now to then. Some things linger, some manifest, some get left behind, and some are novel parts that take time to get used to. That was what I learned upon listening through Darren’s interview.
When asked about the mature him, he answers that he’s no longer confined to a box and hesitating when speaking his mind, a note he’s gotten from his handler before. Now? He’s unfiltered. “This is how I talk. This is how I am,” he declares. But, despite it, he also doesn’t want to lose the wholesome image he’s crafted. One can even say he’s building on it and shaping it into something that may be foreign in the exterior but familiar enough to recognize.
The same kind of learning he’s taken when going about his music. “I don’t want to restrict myself to just one genre, as well. I want to do as many genres as possible without losing my identity,” he shares. He talks of how he would accept any demo given to him by the label back then. And now, he’s become someone a little more tethered to his craft—an artist that knows what he’s after. He’s become focused on his sound, he’s been vocal on the creative decisions, and he’s fleshed out and scrapped songs along the way. He’s even had projects he’s had to fight for—the kind of changes he needed to go through for his artistry. But even with changes, he wants to keep making music that feels distinctly ‘him.’ “It’s part of growing up,” he admits. And he’s right. You grow with your music.
Through literal and metaphorical growths, it makes us wonder what’s next for Darren. It’s often attributed that your coming of age happens in your teen years. But, I’d argue that being in your 20s is often your most transformative years of your life as you navigate your place in the world. It’s all jarring transitions, immense pressure to keep up, and a great bulk of self-discovery when you’re at this age. He shares: “The Darren now, he’s still trying to figure out life. And that’s the thing, people say like, ‘Oh, you’re only 20! You’re so young!’ Pero, feeling ko I’m running out of time. Like, although I feel fulfilled with everything I’ve been able to do in my life. Ang dami ko pang gustong gawin syempre. And I feel like I’m running out of time because it didn’t help that I turned 20 in a pandemic.” [“But I have a feeling that I’m running out of time. Like, although I feel fulfilled with everything I’ve been able to do in my life. I have so much I want to do, of course.”]
On Darren: Full ensemble, Rubri / Accessories, Whatdapperswant
He talks of how he wants to allow himself to be more vulnerable and open to possibilities. Because even then, he’s been a chronic overthinker, and he’s had so many expectations of himself and the people around him. A mindset he’s trying to let go of as life becomes even more unpredictable and nuanced. “It surprises a lot of people how much I think about my future. Talagang pinaplano ko buhay ko year by year and recently talaga, na-realize ko ‘di dapat ganon. ‘Cause when I turned 20, sabi ko, ‘Okay, 25. Sana nahanap ko na [life] partner ko na I’m going to marry in the future. By 30, I want to have kids. I want to be able to settle down.’ But, at the same time, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s nice to have a plan, but it’s also nice to go with the flow of life,” he says.
On Darren: Full Ensemble, Cruz MNL
Despite his generally positive exterior, it’s a shock for a lot of people that Darren has a lot of other thoughts ruminating in his head. But he’s human. It happens. “I just really want to make my family proud at the end of the day. And sometimes, I feel like I’m not good enough, yung ginagawa ko. And that’s one of the things [I think of] when sometimes I start overthinking,” he shares. That’s why if he had a message to himself, it would be to not be so hard on himself and to just simply live his life as is, even through the confusion and unexpected. “Mahirap din ganon ka mabuhay,” he admits. [“And sometimes, I feel like I’m not good enough with what I’m doing.”] [“It’s hard to live that way.”]
Ultimately, he’s just been grateful for the journey. For the loved ones who've stood by him and the Darrenatics who've built him up. He says about his fans, “Walang Darren ngayon kung wala sila. Because of them, kaya naman nagka-Darren na nagtagal sa industriya. And not everyone gets this opportunity to be able to have such a supportive group of people, and I’m so fortunate to have them in my life.” He ends the interview talking about the Darrenatics watching him mature through the years. And the way it’s been a ride seeing them surprised at the things he’s letting loose and saying without a filter. But, now, “This is me,” he declares. He looks to the future and sees endless possibilities, while never losing sight of where he came from. [“There’s no Darren now if there’s no them. Because of them, that’s why there’s been a Darren who’s stayed in the industry.”]
So, what can we truly expect for Darren’s coming of age? You’ll simply need to wait and see.
Words by Marielle Filoteo
Produced by Philip Vargas
Photography and Creative Direction by Rxandy Capinpin
Styling by Rodel Brinas
Hair and Makeup by Mycke Arcano
Final Art and Editing by Joe Andy
Fashion Film and Video Editing by Christina Zabat
Featuring Fashion by Austeen Soriano, Rubri, Chris Diaz, and Cruz MNL.
Special Thanks to Christine Alonzo, Jhacky Lou, and UMUSIC Philippines