Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Arnel Pineda of Journey - Youtube Star Philippines

Filipino singer stars in Don't Stop Believin' movie

Don't Stop Believin': Arnel Pineda's journey to global rock star  

Arnel Pineda wasn't a breakout Youtube star to the extent that Zee Avi was. But Youtube did play a part in the Filipino singer's discovery by the vintage US rock band Journey in 2007. Now the heartwarming tale of Arnel's unlikely, well, journey is the stuff of a documentary, "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey", made by a Filipina director, Ramona Diaz.

The documentary was released in 2013 and has since been reviewed all over the place with a wide spectrum of reactions. The New York Times reviewer found it a "flabby and repetitive showcase." Other reviewers frequently cite the little guy with a big voice as the redeeming virtue of the film, noting his "enthusiasm" and "ebullience"  "clear-eyed pragmatism",  "Ingratiating personality" and "a dynamic stage presence."

Scott Tobias of NPR suggests what a better movie could have been: "the richer, more complicated story of a dreamer who learns to become the durable
Image courtesy of
professional his bandmates expect." Or as another reviewer put it, how does Arnel reconcile his desire to express his own personalty with the band's desire for a clone of the original lead singer, Steve Perry? At least now he's getting a chance to write songs for the band.

Not sure who or what Journey is? Nor was I. Turns out the band has been around in one form or another for 40 years. Think mainstream stadium, blue-collar rock of the early 1980s. Like it or not, you have probably heard  "Don't Stop Believin' " (which was played at the finale of "The Sopranos"), "Any Way You Want It", "Open Arms", "Faithfully" and "Only the Young" on the radio or in the karaoke bar.

The hype wasn't exaggerating regarding the world touring. In the past few years Journey toured in huge venues in Singapore, Australia, Japan, China and Chile and, of course, the Philippines. Arnel regularly gives updates on the band's movements on his own website.  He's also been serving as a mentor this year on "The Voice Philippines" singing competition TV show. Here are Arnel and Charice Pempengco, probably the Philippines' most widely-known singing stars, dueting and in a 2011 Korean documentary.

courtesy of

Arnel Pineda in Journey concert

Everyman's Journey: 

Fact and Fiction

This type of story virtually demands a rags-to-riches Cinderella arc. It's not quite accurate in Arnel's case. As the documentary's website hypes it: "having overcome a lifetime's worth of hardships, [he] must now navigate the immense pressures of replacing a legendary singer and leading a world-renowned band on their most extensive tour in years."

In fact, as a child he was very poor, dropped out of school and even lived on the street for a few years--which explains why today he has a foundation to to help poor children get an education. 

But he had been a well-known musician in the Philippines since the 1980s and had a comfortable life and was supporting a family. He began entering singing contests as a teenager and then with bands. His first band, Amo, had a radio hit, "Running Away", in 1990.  His other bands were Intensify and New Age, which was based in Hong Kong for several years in the 1990s and again in 2004. (I'm not surprised to hear that he had problems with alcohol and drugs while living in Hong Kong; among the many Filipino musicians and musician families there, smoking the heroin seems to be part of the lifestyle.) He recorded an album of his own songs in the 1990s under contract with Warner. 

Just before his Journey discovery, he was playing with a band called The Zoo which had just released an album, "Zoology" with MCA Universal, as he notes in this Q & A with Rolling Stone. The Zoo performed a lot of cover songs by oldie hard and soft rockers, some of which became Youtube videos uploaded by one of the friends of the band. Journey's lead guitarist Neal Schon came across some of them on Youtube and invited Arnel to audition for the lead singer position.  Hard to believe from his appearance and boundless energy but Arnel was already 39 at the time. 

I don't know if I completely believe the tale that a US Embassy employee in Manila made Arnel sing "Wheel in the Sky" (aka the "Don't Stop Believin'" song) when he applied for a visa with the explanation that he needed to go to the United States to audition for Journey. Rather, I don't believe that said employee supplied the explanation with this audio clip of Arnel singing said song. But, obviously, Arnel has a powerful voice and this is a good quality rendition. I also don't believe, as quoted in the clip above, that the Journey member upon seeing The Zoo Youtube videos, wondered if Arnel could speak English. He's been a professional musician in the US for 40 years and has never encountered Filipino musicians? Right. 

Follow Arnel on Twitter @arnelpineda. 
Movie website:

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