As a Filipino kid growing up in Canada, Darren Espanto developed his interest in singing with the encouragement of his parents.

He remembered how his parents signed up for his first public singing competition when he was just eight years old.

“I’d never really had anyone else hear me sing. I didn’t have any self confidence. I remember being scared during that first performance. I didn’t really move at all on stage,” the 16-year-old singer said in an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Espanto would go on to join more singing competitions as a way to gain experience.

Then in 2014, he returned to the Philippines to join the first season of The Voice Kids. At the time, he just wanted to experience a singing contest in the Philippines.

Espanto impressed judges Sarah Geronimo and Bamboo Manalac with a performance of Jessie J’s Domino. He would later join Geronimo’s team.

“I’ve always looked up to her. When she turned her chair, I was like ‘Oh, my gosh. She turned for me!’. I was starstruck and couldn’t speak much,” he recalled. “She would always tell me to sing from the heart. It doesn’t matter if I win or lose. I just have to give my best.”

Espanto also never expected to go all the way to the finals, let alone finishing in second place behind Lyca Gairanod.

After that, Espanto’s career pretty much escalated. He has had several chart-topping singles, his self-titled debut album was certified platinum, and his latest album Be With Me also hit No. 1 on the Philippines iTunes chart.

For Espanto, he realised that life would never be quite the same again after seeing the frenzy that followed his appearances in the Philippines.

“I can’t move much in the mall without being noticed.”

Then there’s the haters as well: “I don’t really pay attention to those people who hate. I find them funny. I just kind of laugh at them.”

Espanto is about to release music videos for two new songs, Young Hearts and My Baby, both duets with 16-year-old Malaysian teenage singer-songwriter Nik Qistina.

“In the Philippines, a lot of people think singers of the same age would be in competition with each other. I don’t see it that way with Nik. I think it’s important to relate to someone who has the same passion. She’s very fun. I’m excited for fans to see our upcoming music videos.”

Espanto, who juggles between school in Canada and a music career in the Philippines, hopes to do some acting as well. But for now, he has to put his ambitions on hold.

“I’ve been offered up to five TV acting roles but I had to turn them down. My schedule at the moment is not allowing me to do any of that now. I really hope to make it happen soon.”