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Proud of his hometown, Calexico High School senior Yahir “El Choco” Garduño stands next to the Calexico sign near Avenue Campillo and Imperial Avenue East recently. The 17-year-old is representing his city in the finals of Estrella TV’s singing competition, “Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento.” | JULIO MORALES PHOTO

Calexico Teen, ‘El Choco,’ Nabs ‘Tengo Talento’ Win

(This story was updated Nov. 30.)

CALEXICO — Seventeen-year-old Calexico resident Yahir “El Choco” Garduño was among the five “Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento” contestants who were selected to form a Mexican regional band and awarded a Sony Music Latin recording contract.

Yahir’s selection was announced during the televised two-hour “Tengo Talento” finale on Nov. 25, which was recorded several days prior.

Yahir is the second-youngest member of the Nuevo Elemento band, as it is called, and the only one to hail from California.

“We hope to count on your support and we’ll keep working hard to make a name for ourselves in this artistic medium,” Yahir wrote in Spanish on his Instagram account following the on Nov. 25 televised announcement of his selection.

Yahir was not immediately available for comment.

The Calexico High senior will be joined in the recording booth and onstage by 15-year-old accordionist Lilo Bermudez, from Phoenix; Danny Rea, 21, from Waukegan, Ill.; Hector Osobampo, 22, from Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico, and Carlos Gabriel Arael, a 21-year-old Guatemalan native currently living in Jacksonville, Fla.

Though each member brings their own talents and experience, the group can be expected to act as a cohesive unit with a sole identity, Yahir said during the season finale.

“That is the fundamental principle of what Nuevo Elemento is,” Yahir said during the group’s virtual appearance on the “Chisme en Vivo” Spanish-language entertainment news show that was posted on its YouTube page on Nov. 26.

Aside from the Sony Music Latin recording contract, the winning quintet will share a grand prize of $100,000.

Yahir’s selection came after 10 weeks of auditions and elimination rounds. The winner’s selection was the result of a combination of audience votes, celebrity judges’ input and Sony Music Latin executives, an Estrella TV network spokesperson said.

Nuevo Elemento’s first single and official video, “No Andes Con Nadie.” | SONY MUSIC LATIN


CALEXICO — Yahir “El Choco” Garduño was not at liberty this week to disclose the outcome of his competition in the “Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento” television series’ finale.

For contest results, “Team Choco” followers will have to tune to in the three-episode series finale that started airing Monday, Nov. 23, and wrapped with the results show at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 25, on Estrella TV.

Nonetheless, one could get a sense of his standing among the judges of the popular Spanish-language television talent contest by viewing an episode segment recently released on the show’s Facebook page.

First, there was celebrity judge Pepe Garza, renowned Mexican radio programmer and music producer, telling the 17-year-old Calexico resident that he was clearly a natural on stage, as well as a crowd-pleaser, genuine nice guy, and — more important — someone who could actually sing.

The TV series’ host and Latino recording artist, Luis Coronel, also disclosed to the judges that backstage Yahir had taken it upon himself to admonish his fellow contestants to stay focused and keep their eyes on the prize.  

“El Choco es un leader,” Coronel said.

Having such qualities could work in Yahir’s favor, considering he was among the 12 finalists that were competing for the series’ five winning spots.

“There’s plenty of nice people, but as far as those who have the whole package, there’s just you,” Garza said in Spanish during the segment that was taped Thursday, Nov. 19, at the network’s Burbank studios.

Those select few will split a $100,000 grand prize and receive a recording contract with Sony Music Latin to perform as a regional Mexican band comprised of young males like Yahir.

Well, maybe not exactly like him, as the Calexico High senior himself pointed out to the four celebrity judges in a playful attempt to further distinguish himself from his peers.

“Look at my skin tone, it’s like chocolate,” Yahir said in Spanish. “The group is lacking someone with a touch of fiery dark skin.”

Indeed, viewers of past episodes of the show can observe how the show’s celebrity judges appeared to be just as entertained with Yahir’s banter as they were with his singing.

“I’m just being me,” Yahir said during a Nov. 18 interview with this newspaper. “I got to be kind at all times. That’s just my nature.”

Calexico High School senior Yahir “El Choco” Garduño smiles as he sits on a bus stop bench embossed with his hometown’s name near Avenue Campillo and Imperial Avenue East recently. The 17-year-old is representing his city in the finals of Estrella TV’s singing competition, “Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento.” | JULIO MORALES PHOTO

It is also in his nature to work diligently toward his goals, whether it involves honing his musical talents or maintaining his grades at school.

Such dedication has earned the support of his family, which has been responsible for transporting Yahir back and forth between Calexico and show appearances at the network’s Burbank studios.

An extra special thanks is also due to Yahir’s mother, who bought him his first guitar in 2018 and, when that one broke, a second one for his birthday in January so that he could keep practicing.

“It’s a dream for him and a source of pride for us,” said his father, Luis Antonio Garduño, on Thursday, Nov. 19.

The five winners of the Sony Music Latin recording contract, as well as the name of the new Mexican regional band, will be announced during the Nov. 25 episode.

Were Yahir to be selected as one of the five band members, he said he would invest his $20,000 cash prize winnings into further promoting his career and avoid any impulsive or extravagant purchases. Although one potential expenditure would be to fix his broken guitar.

In the event Yahir is not selected, he said he would continue focusing on school, where he gets mostly straight A’s, except for math. Plans also call for potentially pursuing a career in law enforcement.

He counts the late U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena as a hometown hero and inspiration and said he wouldn’t mind helping combat the drug trade, regardless of the inherent risks.

Despite his relatively young age, Yahir said his own life’s experiences have provided him with sufficient material to compose his own songs, which total about 40 to date and often feature love and lament as recurring themes.

“Love and loss is what the people most like to hear,” Yahir said.

The “Tengo Talento” competitor said his advancement through the show’s early competitive rounds were given a big boost by fellow Calexican, Angel Esparza, founder of the society and culture platform Mi Calexico.

After Esparza had become aware of Yahir’s competition in the TV series, he asked Yahir if he would like to be featured on Mi Calexico’s social media accounts. The Nov. 9 post was shared with tens of thousands of Mi Calexico’s social media followers, who were encouraged to vote for Yahir in the first stage of the semifinal rounds.

“He helped me a lot,” Yahir said.

“Supporting people like Yahir is what Mi Calexico is all about; he’s an example of a Calexican that embraces his roots, loves what he does and filled with so much potential,” said Esparza on Monday, Nov. 23. “We wish him the best at the competition and regardless of the results, this is only the beginning of a journey.”

Yahir also has the support of not just his school, but the entire Calexico Unified School District. Superintendent Carlos Gonzales sent his support via statement on Nov. 23.

“We are thrilled and exited that Yahir Garduño is representing the community of Calexico as well as CUSD. We wish him the best in this event!” Gonzales stated.

Meanwhile, the decision to enter the “Tengo Talento” contest had come as a whim for Yahir, who admittedly didn’t complete the online application process on his initial attempt a few months back. Only after he received a telephone call from the show’s producers encouraging him to complete the process did he do so.

Since then, the experience has been a whirlwind of television appearances and hopeful anticipation. Through it all, Yahir said he has remained the same humble and fun-loving teenager, albeit one with a greater understanding of the sacrifices and efforts needed to attain one’s goals.

“I keep pushing myself,” Yahir said. “Because at the end, that’s what it’s going to take to get where I want.”

Calexico High School senior Yahir “El Choco” Garduño, 17, will make his last appearance on the season finale of “Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento” on Estrella TV on Wednesday night, Nov. 25. The Imperial Valley will find out whether Yahir had what it takes to win the singing competition. | JULIO MORALES PHOTO
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