The amazing discovery of Filipino singer, Arnel Pineda, from YouTube was, and still is, the biggest story about a rock singers’ Journey to fame. It is never boring to recount the story a million times because of the inspiration, hope and courage it provides people with. How he “Never Walked Away” from his mistakes but learned from them, instead.
Avid fans would know Arnel’s story by heart. Arnel grew up as the eldest of 4 boys by parents who both worked as tailors. The meager income coming from both parents’ jobs, together with the proceeds of their small sari-sari-store, was just enough for the basic needs of the family.
When Arnel Pineda’s mother died after a long illness, the family was left with nothing. Arnel disclosed, during an interview, that he stopped going to school because he had no pocket money for food and fare. They were unable to pay the rent for almost a year too, so Arnel’s father was forced to live with relatives with Arnel’s younger siblings. The “Wheel in the Sky” had taken a wrong turn but Arnel kept going.
Arnel was just about 13 years old but he decided to fend for himself because he did not want to be an added burden to his father. So, they decided to go their “Separate Ways”. He then lived in the streets of Manila; sleeping in benches in Luneta Park or outside a friend’s house and earning food money by gathering used bottles and newspapers and selling them to dealers.
He recounted how he would ration his biscuits for several days and drink water from faucets in gas stations to survive. Since he was living in the streets, he was able to shower only when it rained. At times, he had used the gas stations’ faucet to clean himself up, and just allowed his clothes to dry on his body. Sometimes, they sang at a stranger’s wake too in exchange for food. He took these all with a grain of salt. “Only the Young” could have such optimism in the face of adversity.
During his life in the streets, he revealed that he had tried everything from drugs, to smoking and to alcohol. In spite of all these, Arnel never allowed his “Lights” to dim, and welcomed his dire situation with “Open Arms.”
Arnel Pineda’s life changed when a friend suggested that he used his voice to earn a living. “Be Good to Yourself,” his friend said, and Arnel followed his advice. He sang with the Yjos Band and was featured in some TV shows, but their group did not make it big in the local entertainment industry. At age 15, Arnel performed with Asia’s Songbird, Regine Velasquez, and Regine‘s singing career blossomed from then on, while Arnel‘s sizzled out.
Then he accepted an invitation to work in Hongkong as a singer in a popular bar. In Hongkong, he was on drugs every day that he lost his voice. He wanted an “Escape” from his fears in performing that he had to do drugs. His employer had to send him home.
When he was sent home, that was the time that he realized he had squandered the talent that God has given him, and vowed to himself to “Change for the Better,” because he was living on the “Edge of the Blade!”
Arnel started singing with the Ammo Band, and then the Zoo Band in Olongapo City and Manila. The band covered several artists such as; Led Zeppelin, Air Supply, Bon Jovi, and Journey, among others.
Noel Gomez, a fan, “Faithfully” followed Arnel’s career since he first saw him perform in Olongapo City. When Arnel stopped performing in Olongapo, Noel made an effort to travel to Manila to watch them perform at the Hard Rock Café, where a staff recorded Arnel’s performance for Noel to take home to Olongapo.
It was during that time that Noel asked the permission of Arnel to upload his videos on YouTube. Noel wanted the world to appreciate Arnel’s music.
On the other side of the world – in the US – Journey’s band leader, Neal Schon, was trolling the Internet in search of a singer, who “could preserve the legacy sound of Journey, and at the same time sing a ballad.” Lead singer Steve Perry has left the band years before, and two singers had replaced him, Steve Augeri and Jeff Sotto, but they have never captured the Journey magic.
It was during the last hour, when Neal was ready to give up that he found Arnel Pineda’s video. He could not believe his ears, with how powerful Arnel’s voice is, so he went for a drive in his motorbike. When Neal returned and listened to Arnel again, he was certain, they have finally found their lead singer. He immediately contacted keyboard player Jonathan Cain and Journey’s admin to inform them about Arnel. Neal may have wanted to say to the other band members: “Take the news “Anyway You Want It.”
Neal, then, contacted Noel and asked him how they could contact Arnel Pineda. Noel did some research about Journey, and decided that the “guy” could be the real deal, so he informed Arnel. Arnel was skeptical, saying “there were a lot of rippers online, and that rock stars did not surf.”
Noel was persistent, however, saying that if it was real, Arnel would have lost a great opportunity. Ten minutes after Arnel replied to Neal, Neal was already on the phone talking to him, and inviting him to audition in San Francisco.
He was able to obtain his Visa, which usually takes months for Filipinos to do so, because the interviewer at the US Embassy recognized him from his stint at Bagaberde, and asked if he happened to know “Wheel in the Sky.” Arnel sang the song with gusto, and the immigration officer stamped his US VISA.
Arnel Pineda’s audition in the US was a test of endurance as he performed for almost 4 days. He stated that he was star struck with Journey’s members, bass guitarist, Ross Valory, lead guitarist, Neal Schon, keyboard player, Jonathan Cain and drummer, Deen Castronovo.
He also revealed that he had thought he would not make it, because at times his voice cracked because he was extremely jet-lagged, and had only two hours of sleep. His body was still adjusting to the time zone. As the days progressed, his physiology was able to adjust. It was during the recording in Jonathan’s studio that he had a glimmer of hope that his voice was what the band needed.
Afterwards, Neal Schon informed Arnel that he got the gig. It was on December 5, 2007 that Arnel Pineda was announced as the new lead singer of Journey.
Just like Journey’s song, “Don’t Stop Believin’, Arnel Pineda had never stopped believing until he had attained his dreams as a singer.
One of the most memorable experiences was his very first live performance in Vina Del Mar in Chile, before more than 25 million people across South America.
Arnel had recounted that unforgettable experience saying that at first, he did not feel nervous because he had rehearsed well and was well prepared. It was only when he was at the actual venue that he started to grow anxious.
Neal asked him if he was okay, and he replied in the affirmative, although his anxiety had reached its peak; his lips were trembling and his heart was beating slowly. “I felt like I was at the edge of a cliff and one tap and I’d fall off.”
When he heard there were 18 thousand people waiting for their performance, he was apprehensive. His extremities started to get cold, and his breathing became labored. He said it was like a slow motion scene in a movie when everything moved slowly. His face felt distorted. He was terrified.
He asked Neal, “Can I just go back home now?” But of course, it was too late then. Neal jokingly kicked him, saying, it was too late, that he should go out there and sing.
He heard the thunderous applause and the TV host announced: “The band you’ve been waiting for almost twenty years is finally here.“
When they were already on stage, and he started singing, the adrenaline shot up and he went careening at 300 miles per hour. Arnel felt exuberant that he was performing on stage with Journey but he was also apprehensive that he might mess up his performance. He kept wondering if he was doing the right thing, jumping and kicking on stage, and whether he was performing properly.
The audience went crazy with every song, especially the ‘dirty dozen’ songs, and the thunderous applause was genuine and warm. The crowd sang, danced and gamely swayed with his songs. Before Arnel Pineda knew it, he was done performing the 15 songs in their set list.
They clamored for more though, and only stopped cheering when Journey agreed to sing one more song. They performed ‘Lovin, Touchin’, Squeezin,’ which the audience loved.
Neal Schon expressed his astonishment, saying:
“I never thought in a zillion years that this guy would be able to sing our material and find air to be able to run like that. Wow, this could really be interesting.”
Deen Castronovo, at first, was worried how Arnel would perform in front of a big crowd, but all his fears were unfounded because Arnel came shining through ; “He is just like David Roth and Bruce Lee put together;” racing from one side of the stage to the other; he was all over the place, jumping off the rise, and running all around.
Even during Arnel Pineda’s first song “Separate Ways”, the “El Monstruo” (The Monster) had given him a thunderous applause.
Chile’s “The Monster”, which is the term applied for Chile’s crowd during festivals, was usually outright expressive in their approval or disapproval of performances.
Reportedly, there were instances in which performers were not able to finish their songs because the “El Monstruo” had disapproved.
With Arnel, though, there was instant approval and admiration after the first song; an awesome feat for a singer’s first live performance before a huge audience.
Was Arnel aware of this? He did not say. He mentioned in an interview that he had been afraid that they might boo him, but he did not state specifically his awareness of “The Monster.”
Had Arnel known the magnitude of “The Monstruo” in Chile, he may have been more anxious than he already was. Below is this performance.
Arnel Pineda was an instant hit with his audience in Chile, and as the tour continued, he began to acquire more fans around the world. His first album with Journey entitled “Revelation” was certified platinum and debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, with the single “After All These Years” peaking on the Contemporary Adult Chart. The second album “Eclipse” was not as successful as “Revelation” but it still sold well.
Arnel with Journey guested in famous shows like “Oprah“, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and many more popular shows that his popularity continued to increase.
His international fame has not gone unnoticed in his home country, the Philippines. Everyone was supportive and proud of their countryman, who finally made it big in the international scene. It was a Cinderella story, only with the case of Arnel – it was truly happening. Every local TV channel wanted him to perform on their show.
It was Channel 2 on ASAP that Arnel Pineda settled. He performed with almost all the iconic local singers in the music industry (a dream he had when he was just a singer in a smoky bar); Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano, Sharon Cuneta, Lani Misalucha, and Charice. His name became a byword and everyone was so proud of their “kababayan” who had become an international rock star.
Arnel achieved national acclaim as one of the persons Filipinos look up to for inspiration; he is in the same pedestal with boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, whom local folks had admired significantly because of his success in the face of poverty.
Arnel Pineda was awarded by ASAP as the “24 K Golden Voice,” and was tagged the International Pinoy Rock Star. His incredible story has been shot as a documentary film and has won the Audience Award in San Francisco. Reportedly, Arnel has plans for a bio-movie to be filmed in the local cinema.
A member of a popular local rock group, Hagibis, had this to say, on one of Arnel’s YouTube videos in Chile:
“I can’t believe I lived long enough to see a first Asian to break through and perform with a World Class band like Journey. Arnel you are a phenomena. As a 60’s rocker myself jamming with Manila’s old rockers, you’re the best of the best. How you hit those high notes simply amazes me. You are Journey’s lucky find… thanks to You Tube. Neal Schon hired you because you’re the golden boy he’s been looking for. More success & power to you and Journey.!!! Keep on rocking!!”
In the face of all his fame and fortune, Arnel Pineda remains humble and down-to-earth. The mega star of Philippine entertainment, Sharon Cuneta, was pleasantly surprised with Arnel’s humility amidst his tremendous success, which she candidly disclosed during an interview with the rock star.
On Arnel Pineda’s Twitter account, he always acknowledges that Steve Perry is “The Voice” and that he is his hero. Such humility is so disarming.
“Steve Perry is still d Voice. I’m just their messenger.continuing their legacy.”
Presently, Journey would be back on tour starting in Cheyenne, Wyoming, during the Frontier Days on July 19, 2013. The band would continue to tour up to September of this year.
Arnel Pineda’s story is worth recounting repeatedly because of the inspiration that it provides readers in any country, at any age, whatever race or color, that dreams do come true; people just have to tell themselves: “Don’t Stop Believin.”