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Arnel Pineda and why he didn’t stop believing

/ 07:08 PM May 02, 2012

Arnel Pineda’s story is one for the history books.

Having lived a mostly hand-to-mouth existence after his mother died when he was only 13 years old, Arnel’s life made a dramatic turn about five years ago when he was plucked from obscurity to become the lead singer of the quintessential American rock band Journey.

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Thanks to YouTube, Neal Schon found Arnel’s videos singing mostly cover songs. He emailed Arnel’s friend (who uploaded the videos) and asked to speak with the singer. Despite Schon repeatedly saying that the email was not a hoax and that he was real, Arnel thought otherwise. “I couldn’t really believe it, it sounded too impossible,” Arnel said. Why would Neal Schon of the band Journey take an interest in him?

“Hindi ako matangkad, hindi ako cute. Maganda lang ang boses ko,” Arnel remarked when we caught up with him at the Gansevoort Hotel last week. No, he wasn’t just being modest. The band was in the middle of a media blitz to promote the documentary “Don’t Stop Believing: Everyman’s Journey” which was set to premiere that evening at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Directed by Ramona Diaz (Imelda, The Learning), Don’t Stop Believing is a two-and-a-half hour worth of documentary gold, featuring interviews, never before seen behind-the-scene footage from Journey’s concerts across America, with stops in Chile and the Philippines.

If for anything, the reluctant star that is Arnel hopes that viewers get something from the film. “I hope they get inspired,” he quipped.

Inspiring is the word, indeed as Diaz deftly told Arnel’s story, weaving his quotes and anecdotes into one film that speaks not only to Filipinos but to the rest of the film-going public. Of course, his story would resonate more to the Filipinos since they followed Arnel’s story from the very beginning.

It was poignant when Arnel brought the rest of the band to Luneta (which looked beautiful onscreen, by the way) and showed them where he would sleep before, or where they would hide when cops would shoo them away from the park. Cut to a scene inside Arnel’s new mansion where the kitchen is bigger than where he and his brothers all used to stay in.

You can’t help but to feel happy for the man, who was on the verge of giving up his dream because his life was going nowhere. Until that fateful email from Schon that changed everything.

“It is also a story of resilience as we show parts of Arnel’s life before. I think a lot of people can relate to what he went through in life,” Diaz said.

The good thing about the documentary is that it was able to show that Arnel needed Journey at that point in his life and that Journey needed him at that point in the band’s life. It was a match made in heaven as Arnel’s voice sounded eerily similar to that of Steve Perry, Journey’s erst-while vocalist who left the band in the mid-90s. WIth Arnel’s inclusion in the band, he brought with him fresh ideas to help make the band relevant again.

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In sickness or in health, whether the tour required him to sing before thousands of diehard fans for five straight nights, Arnel made sure he delivered what was required of him: sing the anthemic Journey power ballads to the best of his ability.

In one of the scenes, Deen Castronovo, the band’s drummer, thanks Arnel for being part of the band. “I’ve been here for more than ten years and I’ve never seen this happen, I’ve never had a platinum award. Thank you!”

Journey was on the verge of becoming what music observers call as a nostalgia act. 2007 was the year when they made a dramatic turn as well, and it began when HBO’s The Sopranos’ final episode ended with the band’s classic “Don’t Stop Believing”. That paved the way for the major comeback.

It was August 2007 when the band flew Arnel to the United States after getting a work visa for him. The band wanted to hear him in person. This was the audition that Arnel was waiting for his entire life.

Battling jet lag and a new physical environment, Arnel didn’t live up to their expectations at first, particularly when they made him sing on the day he arrived. After getting enough rest, he performed again before the band.

Keyboardist Jonathan Cain was a non-believer at first, but when he heard Arnel sing in person on the third day, all his doubts were erased. “He’s blessed with tons of emotion and soul, stuff you can’t teach. He’s a find,” he said.

Then it was announced, Arnel Pineda was the new lead singer of Journey. Along with such grand announcement was humongous pressure on Arnel’s part to please the diehard fans. There was also an undercurrent of racism among some Journey fans, which he eventually learned to deal with.

Diaz treaded on the issue delicately, showing that Arnel gracefully faced criticism from the band’s fans, with some calling him ugly names.

Schon came to his defense and said that Journey has moved from an all-American band and has evolved into a “world band”.

Arnel shuttled between Manila and California around February 2008 for two weeks of rehearsals before the band’s concert in Santiago, Chile, and a couple of shows in Las Vegas in March, and to record 11 new songs meant for the band’s new album. The summer of 2008 saw the band tour around the U.S. and Europe. In the spring, they released their new album Revelation, the band’s thirteenth studio album (fifteenth overall) and their first with Arnel. By December, the album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, selling more than one million copies and making it Journey’s first such certification since their 1996 album Trial by Fire.

Four years later, the band, alongside director Ramona Diaz and the film’s producers proudly walk the red carpet to attend the world premiere of Don’t Stop Believing: Everyman’s Journey. It was a sold-out screening, flocked by diehard Journey fans, film fanatics and Filipino followers of Arnel Pineda. The film is a rousing reminder to the singer that his journey is far from over, and that he now lives the fairy-tale life he has always dreamed of.

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TAGS: Arnel Pineda, Biopic, Documentary, Filipino, Journey, Music, Poverty, rock band
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