The Ballad of Erik Santos


From landing on his now-iconic winning finals piece to becoming the quintessential balladeer of his generation, Erik Santos‘ stake in the entertainment industry is every bit divinely-ordained. As he turns a year older, Rank Magazine editor Leo Balante sits down with the celebrated artist and OPM mainstay on the making and remaking of the artist facing the “new normal”, boxes left unticked on his creative bucket list, and the poetic justice in continuing to perform on the very stage that gave him his first steps into an illustrious two-decade career given today’s situation.

In September of last year, months in the unprecedented stop brought by the pandemic that paralyzed the world, Erik Santos, in a social media post, recalled a 2018 concert that marked his fifteenth year in the entertainment industry, with a crippling sense of loss from life away from the cheers, the klieg lights, and the backstage chaos of the live events circuit.

He wrote, “How I miss performing live on a bigger stage, in front of hundreds or even thousands of people watching you and singing along to your songs; this is what I’ve been craving for the past six months. There’s really nothing quite like doing live concerts. It’s the adrenaline rush you feel as you come out on stage for your opening song number, the high energy of the crowd—their noise, their applause; the warm and brilliant sound of the band, the bright lights—the entire “experience” that a streaming online service (virtual concert) can never ever duplicate.”

A year later, with him now officially a man of 39, while inching a year closer to spending two decades in the performing arena, Santos’ stake in the industry remains intact and solid with a number of life-altering realizations effected by the silence forced upon all of us by the raging pandemic.

Photographed by Jason Dy. Tank top, ALEXANDER WANG. Trousers, NERIC BELTRAN.

“Ever since nagsimula ako sa showbiz, sa isang linggo hindi ako nawawalan ng show, I’ve been with ASAP (referring to noontime variety show airing every Sunday on Philippine free TV) for 18 years na rin and then I have It’s Showtime. And meron ding mga corporate events, plus yung mga interviews din so masasabi ko na it has been challenging for me—not just for me, syempre nag-uusap usap kaming magkakaibigan—nung biglang nag-stop yung mundo, bigla kang nakulong sa bahay then hindi mo na alam yung gagawin mo. Masyado akong nalungkot sa mg nangyayari kasi di ako sanay ng ganun. Yung mga live performances, biglang naging online, kakanta ka sa harap ng camera, nang walang applause from the audience. It’s something that we were forced to adapt to, but it is never the same,” he tells Rank Magazine for this exclusive feature produced in time for his birthday.

Bridging the gap of performing live onstage for television and for live events are his numerous forays in the kitchen be it in baking cookies, champorado or his quarantine expertise of banana bread—all of which have gained an audience among friends while reconciling with the new realities faced by his career as a performer, and more significantly, his future as a human being faced by the threat of an unseen enemy.

Photographed by Jason Dy. Tank top, ALEXANDER WANG. Trousers, NERIC BELTRAN and boots, CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN.

“I’ve learned to pray out loud, praise, and worship even by myself, which is something that I haven’t done that much before the pandemic. I feel that I can connect stronger with God at mas naririnig ako ng Diyos kapag nag-veverbalize ako ng prayers ko. For me, naging stronger yung faith ko since wala naman tayong ibang kakapitan kundi ang Panginoon and yung faith ko. Apart from that is yung relationship with my family. Before, because of my schedule, I would sometimes end up missing special occasions and milestones in my family. But now, I was very fortunate enough na mas nakikilala ko pa sila.”

In the middle of all this newfound sense of “normalcy” in a pandemic-ridden setting, Santos’ headspace as a musician has shifted towards staying true and grounded to his role as a source of entertainment for people that goes beyond the sold-out concert tickets, the hit singles, the movie and television themes associated to his name, and the acclaim that inevitably came with it, now amplified by learning to adapt to the changes of how things are being done now in the new normal, far from his beginnings as a singing competition regular and eventual music industry novice.

Photographed by Jason Dy.

Hindi kami huminto. Nung pwede na, bumalik kami agad sa studio. Kasi ang thinking namin sa ABS-CBN, dapat we give the people world-class entertainment that they deserve despite our situation. Hindi pwedeng naka-isolate lang kami sa bahay. I remember, the first three months, ginagawa lang namin ang ASAP sa bahay. Kanya kanya kami ng shoot, kanya kanya kami ng kanta. Pero nung pwede na kaming bumalik sa studio, another adjustment. The first time we saw the studio without people, na hindi nagkakagulo, yung sa labas ng dressing room wala kang nakakasalubong, para siyang ghost town. Ang kalmado lahat.”

He adds, “Medyo mahirap kasi nakaka-miss yung adrenaline rush. Kasi as a performer, it helps with your performance. Apart from that, magkakasama kami pero di namin ma-hug ang isa’t isa. Hindi kami pwedeng magtabi. Minsan hindi kami nagkakaintindihan since naka-mask and face shield. Tapos wala rin kaming audience to clap and cheer us on. So, kahit galingan namin ang performance namin, iba pa rin. But, at the end of the day, we have no choice but to adapt because this is not just us doing our jobs for ourselves. This is for us to give the people something to hold on to. This gives us all the greater reward.”

With adaptability as the driving force for the artist and the self in the person of Santos, the idea of turning a year older this year, for him, is one that is as much forward-looking as it is an introspection of his evolution from a neophyte to the established name in the industry that he is now.

Photographed by Jason Dy. Blazer, RYAN CHRIS. Trousers, NERIC BELTRAN.

“Change topic please,” he replies in jest when asked about seeing tables turned from an eager newcomer raring to learn industry tips to a veteran who dishes out lessons acquired from his storied stay in the entertainment scene especially turning a year older.

“When I get asked about my age, I admit, I feel uncomfortable. (laughs) But I have come to think of it both as a reminder of what I have been able to do and become since I started, and of the fact na may mas mga bata pang mas magagaling at kayang gawin ang ginagawa ko na kailangan kong maka-adapt.”

But in telling the continuing saga of Erik Santos’ ascent to OPM mainstay, superstar status, even, what with his now-indelible mark in the performing scene, it is not reliant merely on his age nor length of his stay in public consciousness but the mélange of contributions to the industry that came after his career-making win in hit reality talent competition in 2003, Star in a Million.

Photographed by Jason Dy.

It was at this time when, Rhoderick Ramos Santos, then a 20-year-old Nursing student, hailing from a family of musicians in Malabon, would then land on a powerful finale song, that, according to him, wasn’t planned at all.

He recalls, “‘This is the Moment’ is not a song I reserved in the finals. It’s a song that I chose because I ran out of songs to sing. At the time, in my head, alam ko nang magiging runner-up lang ako. I knew Sheryn (referring to then competition frontrunner Sheryn Regis) would end up winning the whole thing, so I just wanted to select a song na madali kong kabisaduhin at aralin.

As divinely-ordained as it sounds, “This is the Moment” happened.

Promoting the Star in a Million compilations album, a fan in a mall show approached the show’s “wild card” and former boyband member, to sing a hit previously performed by OPM legend, Martin Nievera off a Broadway original.

Since snatching the grand champion plum from the competition, Santos’ stake in the industry has grown, becoming the quintessential balladeer that would breathe life to many iconic films and television programs on ABS-CBN, along with his continued stay in ASAP—the very stage that opened up doors of opportunities for his career to flourish and flourish it did. The dreamer has since found himself anointed in the pantheon of OPM’s foremost fixtures.

Photographed by Jason Dy. Blazer and trousers, ERWIN FLORES. Shoes, PRADA.

“Even before, I was really dreaming of becoming a professional singer who performs on a big stage. Ganun ko na-visualize ang sarili ko. Before, nag-rerecord ako ng mga kanta sa karaoke namin then ire-reproduce ko sya and then I would give it to my friends tapos lalagyan ko ng picture ko sa ibabaw kunwari meron akong album. Then, pipirmahan ko ng autograph ko, may ganun ako. Navi-visualize ko sya pero hindi ko alam paano sya aabutin, to turn this dream into a reality.”

He adds, beaming with pride and resolve, “I am just blessed that whatever I have dreamed of when I was a kid, God gave it to me. But there were, of course, struggles, along the way. It was never one straight path.”

Fast forward to 18 years in the industry, with accolades neatly tucked under his belt, a rich discography of live performances, concert appearances and recording projects with OPM greats, and slew of hits to his name, Santos’ career is one that has breached personal gain but on a grander responsibility of becoming a steward of Filipino music.

Photographed by Jason Dy.

In fact, one hour with Santos and it is evident how his love for his craft transcends a dream for a successful career, but an immense respect and love for OPM that is only sure to intensify more years into his illustrious career and even with nearly two decades in, and he is showing no signs of slowing down.

Of the proverbial game plan and recipe for success, the musician opines, “As a performer, I believe that sticking to your core will really bring you places. Branding is really important, and you need to establish yourself first at how you want people to know you before exploring things you want to do.” He continues, “Kalma ka lang. Dapat hindi ka mayabang. Kapag masyadong galing na galing ka na sa sarili mo, hindi ka mapu-push to do your best.”

Sa ngayon, my focus is on how to do what I have to to sustain my career in the business. I’ve experienced acting on movies and television. I even did theater with Rachelle Ann Go. Lahat naman ng mga gusto kong gawin, nagawa ko na but at the end of the day, I am a singer and a performer. Ang challenge for me ay kung papano ako makaka-adapt sa digital world at sa generation natin ngayon to make sure that my music will not be outdated. Other than this, I would just hope to solidify hosting, which I’ve been doing in ASAP.”

Photographed by Jason Dy.

From “I Believe I Can Fly” to “This is the Moment” and the mélange of covers and originals that marked his career all through out, Santos is very well aware that becoming the quintessential balladeer of his generation is and will always be fleeting as the landscape of music and the overall consuming behavior of listeners are ever evolving.

Of the young artists making the scene more exciting, Santos expresses an interest in collaborating with the new breed of talents like Moira Dela Torre, whom he has already worked with for his album. Aside from the multi-awarded and record-breaking musical genius, Santos is also eyeing an opportunity to collaborate creatively with young superstar Darren Espanto, whose rise to superstar status resonates with his.

“Darren Espanto is the type of artist who knows what he wants. He knows his brand and he is good in singing in dancing, he is not half baked on neither of these skills he offers to his fans and that is why they love him so much!”

Photographed by Jason Dy.

With many acts surfacing and bringing OPM to new frontiers, Santos is keen on bringing his signature ballad twist to hits like Zack Tabudlo’s “Binibini” and SB19’s “MAPA.”

But it is Jaya’s sweeping ballad “Hanggang Dito na Lang” that he is looking forward to interpret be it for an upcoming album, a stage performance in the future, like the one he is set to embark on with a number of artists by the end of the year or in his growing YouTube channel supported by an army of OPM lovers like himself, treading the path to digital that he deems the Filipino music scene will soon be taking in the future.

Photographed by Jason Dy. Leather top, NERIC BELTRAN.

When asked what for him marks his artistry’s evolution nearly two decades in the game, Santos notes the value of storytelling. “Now, more than, ever, I take pride in becoming a better storyteller. Sa buhay ko, sa dami ng napagdaanan ko, mas binibigyan ko na ng emphasis yung storytelling than impressing the listeners on what I can do but what I can give them.”

Produced by Cornerstone Entertainment Inc. for Rank Magazine

Photographed by Jason Dy

Creative, styling direction, and interview by Leo Balante

Styling by Rainier Joseph Dagala and Em Millan of TeamRainXEm

Assisted by Rioliza Camantigue and Elaine Villapando

Grooming by Jay Herrera

Videography by Bhernn Saenz

Shot on location at Cornerstone Studios