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an article by Rita Vera Almazan Marquez, People's Tonight, 31 August 1998, p. 14

The early 1980s saw the emergence of the so-called bagets who captured the imagination of the moviegoing public with their prepubescent appeal. Nowadays, with local show business badly hit by the pervasive economic crisis, producers are starting to create a new upscale marketing niche by developing a new batch of stars: the Cono Kids.

The trend actually kicked off a couple of years ago with the television show "TGIS", which spawned such names as Onemig Bondoc, Bobby Andrews, Red Sternberg and the rest of the gang. Not to be outdone, a competing station countered with "Gimik", which gave rise to such names as Rico Yan and Diether Ocampo.

At present, an entirely new batch of cono kids, distinguished not just for their youth but for the opulent air they project, is starting to make waves.

Easily the top rave among the campus crowd nowadays is an 18-year old actor, an Ateneo high school graduate whose name practically rhymes with "cono."

Young cono personified is Inaki, who is Dingdong Dantes in real life. Very few people in show business, be they colleages or fans, call him Dingdong because the name has come to be associated with a singer surnamed Avanzado. But mere mention of "Inaki" easily prompts people to look at Dingdong Dantes' direction.

Inaki is actually the name of the self-assured character Dingdong portrays in "TGIS." "It's a Spanish term for warrior," explains the young heartthrob during a break in a guest hosting stint on Channel 7's "Sobrang Okay Pare" one Sunday.

I told him I thought Inaki meant "cute" in Spanish, but he merely broke out into a shy smile. "I don't know about that," he said. "Basta ang alam ko, warrior."

Inaki as a character in TGIS brims with self-confidence and youthful assertiveness - the typical cono. How close is the real Dingdong Dantes to TV's cono stereotype, I asked.

"Yes, I admit that people tend to see me as a cono. But that's as far as the current connotation of cono is concerned, ha - you know, yung parang mayaman, maporma at malakas ang dating. Actually wala masyadong pinagkaiba yung Inaki character and the real Dingdong Dantes," he explained. "At first, there was this definite cono character Inaki that I had to portray. Later, our writer gave broad ideas on how this character would develop and we discussed how I as an actor can deliver. Parang kung anong capabilities ko na babagay sa character, sige, gawin.... That's why it's now the public perception that Dingdong Dantes and Inaki have become one and the same."

Dingdong admits thriving in the public adulation commanded by his cono image, by his cono image, but he was quick to put things in the proper perspective. "It's simply the end product of all my efforts. It simply means that people appreciate what I do."

While enjoying his growing popularity among the youngsters, Dingdong is nevertheless wary of the downside of his cono image. Some fans, he fears, might not be able to relate, thinking that he is beyond their reach. "I'm actually very flexible," he explained. "I can be there on top but I can also be there below."

For someone who at first blush appears destined for cutesy roles, Dingdong dreams big for an actor. When asked what role he has been yearning to portray, his answer came fast and surprising. "Psycho o Dracula, para challenging," he retorted. Topping the list of actors he idolizes are Robert de Niro and Nicolas Cage.

Complementing his seriousness to become a good actor is his seriousness to earn a college degree. He won his parents' consent to pursue an acting career after fulfilling his promise of finishing his high school studies at Ateneo without any hitches. He is now a freshman at San Beda College taking up Philosophy in preparation for a Law proper course.

Despite his studies and his hectic showbiz sked, Dingdong still finds time to be an active cheerleader of San Beda's basketball team in the NCAA.

"Kasi, ano ako, eh, adventurous. Parang I wanna try something new everytime...parang ganun," he replied when asked how he does all these things at the same time. "I make it a point also to divide my time among my family, school, career and barkada."

Does he still get to go out with his former schoolmates at Ateneo?

"Kailangan. Kailangang kasama ko pa rin sila paglabas...sila yung mga original, eh. Dati, palagi kami sa mga bars, ganun; ngayon, sa mga bahay-bahay na lang kapag may parties," he said with a tinge of sentimentality.

From all indications, things seem to be looking up for this young cono who has managed to keep his feet firmly rooted on the ground.