Darren Criss: Gleefully Pinoy
THE DIALOGUE - Raymond Gutierrez () - January 14, 2011 - 12:00am

He first came into our consciousness as Blaine — the clean-cut, out-and-proud student with powerhouse vocals that sent Kurt’s heart fluttering in the latest season of Glee. With a role that’s both groundbreaking and endearing, fans of the show quickly got hooked on the newest guy in town. In the span of a few months, Darren Criss rose from YouTube sensation to household name, which doesn’t sound so shocking if you’re cast in one of the world’s most watched television series. His rendition of Teenage Dream got cozy on the top of the charts, became number one download on iTunes and gave him the opportunity to duet with singer Katy Perry for a fundraising event in Los Angeles. But more than the hype surrounding him at the moment, it was surprising to know that this young talent is part Filipino. His dad is “white as white can be” while his mom is a Spanish-Filipina hailing from Cebu. Ayala Malls recently flew out television’s freshest face to touch base with his roots and perform for his Filipino fans. We chatted him up backstage for this exclusive interview, to reveal how Pinoy he really is and what life was like for him pre- and post-Glee.

YOUNG STAR: How often are you in the Philippines?

DARREN CRISS: This is my third time back and I was here three years ago for my cousin’s wedding. She got married in San Antonio church in Makati and I sang at her reception. Now I’m back but under very different circumstances.

What part of you is Filipino?

The good part. (Laughs) Well, you know how it’s easier to say if you live an hour outside of Manila that you live in Manila? That’s like me saying I’m half-Filipino. Even if the fact is that side of me is a mix of a little Chinese, Spanish and Filipino, well, my mom is actually from Cebu, It’s just easier to say I’m half.

Give us some Tagalog words or phrases.

Well, my mom doesn’t speak so much Tagalog, actually. She speaks more Visayan. She had to learn Tagalog eventually but she only lived in Manila for two years so if I do know a few phrases, it’s in the Visayan dialect. I know my “thank you”s and the important ones, but I know my food very well.

What’s your favorite Filipino dish?

It depends because there are so many variations of lumpia and pancit but, hands-down, my favorite Filipino dish would be breakfast — with my garlic rice, tocino and bibingka for dessert.

Are there any Filipino songs you like to sing?

I know them when I hear them like “Oh, that song again,” but I couldn’t tell you the names. I could’ve learned one for today but I’d rather not ruin it for everybody. It’s okay if I do it in the states ‘cause it’s like “Oh, how cute, white boy singing Filipino songs.” But here, I don’t want to screw it up.

Are there any local artists you’d like to collaborate with?

I’m not well versed with every single Filipino artist but one that I grew up listening to would be Lea Salonga. We’ve actually been in touch back and forth over the holidays. We have a lot of mutual friends and it would be great if I could work with her or maybe write something for her.

Do you prefer writing or singing?

It depends, writing is certainly more fun because you can be as creative as you want, but I go either way. I just enjoy good music. I’m not saying though that my music is any good but I try very hard. (Laughs)

What did you lean toward in high school?

I actually don’t know. I was a bit dorky and did a lot of theater. I definitely leaned towards music — I was in the orchestra, student government and I did so many electives. I wasn’t an overachiever because that would mean I succeeded in a lot of these things but I just tried. I wasn’t the cool kid partying all the time but I wasn’t awful as well. I was in that comfortable middle zone.

How did Glee come about?

I auditioned for it like everybody else. I’ve gone out for Glee a couple of other times. I auditioned for Finn but didn’t get it and that’s okay. I bet they don’t even remember that I auditioned for that part, it just so happens you meet a few people along the way and they keep you in mind for certain castings. I went out for Blaine and it’s a character I really wanted to do. I used to have long hair and I cut it for the audition and thank goodness it was worth it.

What was your initial reaction when they told you about the character of Blaine?

Everything about Blaine is just so positive and I feel privileged playing this character. As a straight man it’s great to have an out and proud gay character on a show that’s so well-received where young people who are struggling can have something to relate to in Blaine. Also, Kurt is such a great character and he deserves to be happy.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing Glee?

I’d be working on my album. I was actually working on it before I got Glee and I was incredibly busy with that and my production company Star Kid where I write musicals online. All the kids love it because they’re on the Internet more than any of us and the new show comes out in February for that. The album had to take a backseat because of Glee but I intend to keep on working on that.

What are the top three albums you’re listening to right now?

The new Kanye record, Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” and “Love Songs” by Chet Baker.

What’s your New Year’s resolution?

Keep moving.

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