Erik Santos is celebrating his 16th year in the Philippine music industry this 2019.
Erik started out as a contestant in ABS-CBN's original singing competition Star In A Million in 2003.
On January 3, 2004, Erik was declared as the winner of the show's first season, beating fellow grand finalists Sheryn Regis and Marinel Santos.
Since then, Erik has been groomed as one of the Kapamilya network's pop ballad singers, releasing new singles and albums every now and then, until he was declared as ABS-CBN's "Prince of Pop."
ABS-CBN has tapped Erik to sing most of the theme songs of its teleseryes, paving the way for Erik to be hailed as the "King of Teleserye Theme Songs."
But just like any artist, Erik struggled at the start of his career, especially when he was still a contestant hoping to get his big break.
In this exclusive interview with PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal), Erik looked back on his journey when he was still battling it out to be the "star in a million," until he became one of ABS-CBN's homegrown singers.
Erik started his music career in ABS-CBN when he was discovered by veteran host and talent manager, Boy Abunda.
This paved the way for him to audition and enter the September 2003 batch of Star In A Million, a singing competition aired on the Sunday variety program ASAP, which was called ASAP Mania back then.
Star In A Million, which started in early 2003, featured different batch of contestants every month. Each month's winner would enter the grand finals aired in a separate TV program.
Erik recalled, "Actually, nag-audition ako inside the van of Boy Abunda. So noong nag-audition ako sa kanya, sinabi niya sa akin kung gusto kong sumali ng Star In A Million. Yung Star In A Million was sikat na sikat siya noon.
"Sabi niya, kung gusto kong sumali ng Star In A Million, pinag-attend niya ako noong special audition, nandoon pa yun sa may studio ng MYX.
"Then nag-audition ako, 'I Believe I Can Fly.' Yun yung kinanta ko sa audition, kinanta ko sa unang salang ko sa stage, kinanta ko during the wildcard competition."
Unfortunately, Erik was eliminated during the third week of the ASAP competition.
Star In A Million contestant number nine, Johann Escanan, was hailed as the September winner.
He said about this, "Masakit, pero after, hindi ko na maalala kung after one week or two weeks, pinatawag nila yung mga natalo to compete for the wildcard."
In October 2003, Erik got another chance to join Star In A Million when the show's production called him to join a wildcard competition. His competitors were former finalists who also failed to win the monthly competition.
Erik bested other four wildcard contestants, allowing him to be Star In A Million's tenth and final contestant.
He continued, "So ayun, doon sa mga bumalik, hindi naman lahat bumalik pero maraming bumalik na natalo sa weekly, so ako yung napili doon.
"Doon sa mga bumalik, lima yung pinili, yung top five na yun, sinalang ulit sa ASAP stage but instead of eliminating one contestant per episode, nag-choose na lang sila ng one winner to complete the top ten. At ako yun."
How did he feel when he emerged as the wildcard?
Erik answered, "After kasi no'n, feeling ko kasi, I've done my part bilang isang contender and parang hindi nag-align yung stars for me.
"Pero feeling ko, I did my best, pero feeling ko rin, hindi ako dapat natanggal agad.
"Pero siyempre, na-accept ko na, di ba? Kung kailan na-accept na lahat, at saka naman nagpatawag.
"So, parang ang daming reasons ni God para kapag nabigo ka, meron siyang ipapalit doon na mas malaki."
Star In A Million's Top 10 finalists were: 1. Christian Bautista, 2. Gayle Dizon, 3. Czarina Rosales, 4. Marinel Santos, 5. DK Tijam, 6. Michell San Miguel, 7. Teresa Garcia, 8. Sheryn Regis, 9. Johann Escanan, and 10. Erik Santos.
Erik was dubbed as the competition's "Star On The Rise."
During the first part of the contest, Erik said that he was just enjoying the experience.
He also felt that he had an advantage when it comes to dealing with eliminations, since he already experienced it during the first part of Star In A Million.
"Noong nasa Top 10 na ako, kasi na-experience ko kung papaano matalo, na-experience ko kung paano ma-frustrate, so hindi ako nag-expect at all.
"Parang ang akin, joy ko nang mapasama sa Top 10. I'll do my best pero kung hanggang saan ako aabutin, I will be very happy. Yun ang nasa utak ko, yun yung mindset ko."
It was only when five of them remained in the competition—Christian, Marinel, Teresa, Sheryn, and him—when Erik realized that he should give his all.
"But noong nakaka-ungos-ungos na ako, parang lima na lang natitira, parang sandali, naiiba yata yung naiisip ko. Yung naisip ko before, parang naiiba yung nangyayari sa reality.
"So noong umabot ako ng five, doon ako nag-decide na lalaban talaga ako. Mas naging competitive ako noong parang top 5, top 4 na lang kami.
"My eyes, especially noong nasa top six or five, my eyes were focused on the prize."
Erik and all the contestants were saddened when a contestant got eliminated in the Kapamilya contest.
"We're super close, hindi kaming sampu pero majority ng mga contestants, sobrang close.
"So naiiyak kami, nalulungkot kami kapag may natatanggal doon sa mga kaibigan namin."
Erik pointed out that the competition really seemed to be a survival of the fittest.
"Alam mo, ang hindi alam ng tao minsan, inaabot kami ng three in the morning, four in the morning, and it's a contest, ha.
"Naging ano talaga siya, parang palakasan at patibayan ng lalamunan."
But from the start, they believed that Sheryn Regis was the one most likely to become the winner because she was the consistent top one scorer during the competition.
Erik added, "Kasi noong time na yun, lahat ng mga nakalaban ko, sila DK, sila Marinel, sila Christian, sila Sheryn, lahat mga magagaling talaga and lahat mga artistahin.
"So, parang ang naging competition no'n was parang kung sino na lang magkakamali.
"But, of course, Sheryn was a different story kasi magaling talaga siya and siya yung top one lagi. During that time, siya na yung sure winner.
"So parang ang pinaglalabanan na lang is yung first and second runners-up."
On December 27, 2003, Erik was announced as part of the top three grand finalists, along with Marinel and Sheryn.
For his grand finals performance, Erik chose the Martin Nievera-hit "This Is The Moment," which was also from the Broadway musical Jekyll & Hyde.
Marinel's song was Christina Aguilera's then-new hit "The Voice Within," while Sheryn's was "Come In Out Of The Rain," the song that she performed for Star In A Million's compilation album.
Upon hearing their songs, Erik says, "Actually, noong rehearsals pa lang, siyempre narinig ko yung mga kanta nila, di ba? Sabi ko, parang may laban yata yung 'This Is The Moment.'
"So kinausap ko si Tito Homer Flores kasi yung 'This Is The Moment,' narinig ko yun kay Martin Nievera, hindi ko alam na galing siya sa Broadway.
"Ang alam ko lang, narinig ko siya sa concert ni Martin and it's so beautiful na parang sabi ko, kakantahin ko ito.
"At saka parang lack of song na kasi, di ba, every week, kumakanta kami and every week parang gusto mo maka-advance sa next round, so parang every week parang ibibigay mo na lahat.
"So noong grand finals, sandali lang, parang naubusan ako ng song. So I chose 'This Is The Moment' then kinausap ko si Tito Homer, hindi ko ginaya yung version ni Martin Nievera.
"Ako talaga yung nag-decide, together with Tito Homer kung saan aakyat, kung saan magmo-modulate, kung papaano mag-e-end, gaano kahaba. During that time, meron na akong ganung instinct.
"Binigyan naman kami ng laya na kung ano yung gusto namin for the song."
Erik even paid particular attention to his stage presence and his fashion statement.
"Pati yung damit ko, ano yun, e, plinlano namin na sana medyo lighter yung color para mas stand out.
"So we went for parang super light gray na parang white na siya."
During the grand finals night on January 3, 2004, hosts Edu Manzano and Zsazsa Padilla announced that their scores were back to zero.
When the grand finals night ended, Erik was hailed as Star In A Million grand winner.
Sheryn Regis placed first runner-up while Marinel Santos was second runner-up.
Erik did not expect to win since Sheryn was the consistent top performer in the competition.
"Hindi talaga at saka sinabi ko kay Sheryn na parang 'Ikaw na yan,' kasi siya yung consistent na number one."
But fate had other plans for them, and Erik was declared the winner.
During the announcement, Marinel was even seen jumping in joy for Erik.
Erik quipped, "Kasi noong time na yun, si Marinel, super close kami niyan up until now. May gusto kasi sa akin yun, e!
"Hindi, kasi naging magkaibigan kami. This was during the day of the grand finals, sabi ko sa kanya, 'Marinel, huwag mo na masyado galingan, ha. Ako na lang yung first runner-up, ikaw na lang yung second runner-up.'
"Sabi niya, 'Oo naman! Sa sobrang pagmamahal ko sa 'yo, gagawin ko talaga yan!' So it happened. Siguro di naman sinasadya pero it happened."
The video of the awarding shows that Sheryn was not visibly pleased with the results.
Erik says that he completely understood how Sheryn felt at that time, but he clarifies that they did not have any personal problems because of this incident.
"Siyempre, sa akin, walang anything na negative sa akin kasi siyempre nanalo ako, e, masaya ako.
"Siguro sa part niya, which I understood kasi for someone who has been consistent number one sa contest, mahirap yun, e."
What is more memorable for Erik is the close bond that he developed with his fellow finalists, especially with his close friends Marinel, Czarina, Michell, and Johann.
Erik said, "Biruin mo ilang buwan kami magkakasama. The grand finals started parang first week of November, parang two months kami halos magkakasama, almost everyday, kasi may mga shoots pa yan, mga fun shoots, may mga VTR, may mga ganun, so sobra kaming naging close.
"Siguro yun ang hindi ko makakalimutan, yung friendship na na-build namin throughout the competition."
Erik is proud to say that his life really changed after winning Star In A Million.
"Oo, kasi before, when I joined Star In A Million, nag-boyband muna ako, e, then I went back, nag-aral ulit ako.
"During that time na bumalik ako sa school, yun din yung time na nanalo ako, so tinapos ko pa rin yun kahit nanalo ako, yung buong semester na yun.
"I was taking up Nursing then. Then hindi ko natapos, hindi ako naka-graduate.
"Naka-graduate na lang ako, 2010 pero hindi Nursing, I finished BS Psychology pero before I joined boyband, I was taking up Dentistry.
"Gusto ko lang kasi no'n kaya ako nag-Nursing, it wasn't my passion at all. It's just that yung Nursing kasi was so in demand before so I wanted to go to the States, gusto ko makarating sa San Francisco, sa America, so I wanted to take up Nursing. I really wanted to be a doctor, actually."
Shortly after winning Star In A Million, Erik released his first single "Pagbigyang Muli."
Erik tells PEP.ph the story behind his first single.
"Si Jonathan kasi, he was starting then as a composer-slash-album producer pero ang galing-galing na niyang album producer.
"So noong ni-record namin, noong naatasan siya to do a song for me, parang ang directive was kailangan pang-masa pero dapat mahirap kantahin kasi galing ako sa competition.
"'Paano natin mabi-beat yung 'I Believe I Can Fly' and 'This Is The Moment?' Paano tayo makakagawa ng isang kanta na didikit sa masa and, at the same time, pwedeng pang-kanta sa competition?'
"So si Jonathan yung gumawa ng kanta and it became my very first single in my very first album."
Erik admits that he did not expect that the song would be a radio hit.
"Hindi naman namin akalain na maghi-hit siya sa mga videoke kahit ang hirap niyang kantahin. So very instrumental sa akin yung kanta na yun."
The song later became the second theme song of ABS-CBN's 2011 remake of Maria La Del Barrio starring Erich Gonzales.
The song was also given a new flavor in 2018, when Star Music released a duet version of Erik and Regine Velasquez, as part of Erik's 15th anniversary album.
"Naging theme song siya sa Maria La Del Barrio 'tapos yung duet namin ni Ate Reg naging theme song siya sa Ang Probinsyano.
"Sabi ko kasi, parang yung 15th anniversary album ko kasi, ang konsepto no'n is kinanta ko yung mga old songs ko with the icons, some of the icons.
"Yung 'Pagbigyang Muli,' if hindi si Ate Reg yung kakanta ng 'Pagbigyang Muli' with me, hindi ko na siya kakantahin wth other artists.
"Talagang it was really ate Reg ang naging first choice namin at siya lang. Siya lang yung gusto ko at ni Jonathan."
Erik is now known as ABS-CBN's "King of Teleserye Theme Songs."
To date, he has recorded more than 40 theme songs, mostly for teleseryes.
It seemed like the title would really land on his lap because during Star In A Million, and even before winning the contest, Erik already performed a theme song for a Kapamilya teleserye.
It was for the romantic-drama series It Might Be You, starring Bea Alonzo and John Lloyd Cruz, which aired in December 2003.
He recalled, "Dalawa yung ni-record ko then isang duet with Marinel Santos.
"So yung solo ko yung napili nila para gawing main theme ng soap. Tapos love theme yung sa amin ni Marinel.
"Hindi ko rin alam, e, kasi Marinel recorded her solo version, I recorded my solo version, then we recorded our version. Kaming dalawa lang yun.
"After that, sunud-sunod na siya. 'Now That I Have You,' yung movie naman ni John Lloyd and Bea na kami naman ni Sheryn.
"'I'll Never Go,' sa Koreanovela na Stained Glass and then ginamit din siya for One More Chance.
"Actually, naging radio hit muna siya. Ni-release namin siya, naging radio hit, ginamit sa Stained Glass, mas sumikat. Ginamit sa One More Chance, naging iconic na siya."
Now that Erik is on his 16th year in showbiz, he acknowledges the fact that his career has had its own share of ups and downs.
Erik said about his 16-year-old career, "Roller coaster, hindi naman palaging maganda, hindi naman palaging masarap pero all in all, I think I'm very blessed.
"Sa dinami-dami ng mga gustong maging singer, gustong pumasok sa industriyang ito, isa ako doon sa na-bless ng pagkakataon to share my talent with the world, di ba?"
Did he ever think of leaving ABS-CBN to explore other opportunities with rival networks?
He answered with a smile, "Never, kasi ABS-CBN has been so good to me. Hindi naman nila ako pinabayaan.
"I was able to record more than 42 theme songs for TV and movies.
"For 16 years, I'm still part of ASAP, then now I am a part of 'Tawag ng Tanghalan' sa It's Showtime. Kinukuha nila ako sa iba't ibang shows.
"I hosted mga siguro couple of singing contests before: Star Power, Search for a Star In A Million. Ang dami ring naibigay sa akin na proyekto before.
"Hindi naman, kasi kapag nakasanayan mo na yung ginagawa mo for the last 16 years, at saka masaya naman ako with Star Music, with Star Magic and Cornerstone and with ABS-CBN as a whole so parang hindi naman sumagi sa isip ko yung lumipat."
Just last May 22, Erik top-billed a concert with Yeng Constantino titled ExtraordinarY at Resorts World Manila.
He is now busy promoting his Erik Santos 15 album, and he is looking forward to a big concert but details are still under wraps.