The story of how Journey lead singer Arnel Pineda got discovered sounds like something out of a fictional movie — except it really did happen to Pineda. And a documentary film was made out of his extraordinary rise to fame. In 2007, when Journey was looking for a new lead singer, guitarist Neal Schon happened to see YouTube videos of an unknown singer in the Philippines who belted out Journey songs in a pitch-perfect voice that rivaled the talent of Steve Perry, Journey’s most famous lead singer. The singer in the Philippines was Pineda, who was soon flown to the United States to audition for Journey. And the rest is history.
Pineda’s first album with Journey, 2008’s Revelation,” went platinum in the United States and was a hit in several other countries. The band did a successful international tour that sold out arenas. And Journey fans, both new and old, marveled at how uncannily similar Pineda sounded to Perry when Perry was at his peak in Journey. Some fans would even argue that Pineda is a better singer than Perry, who quit Journey in 1987, rejoined in 1995, and quit again in 1997. Perry was replaced by Steve Augeri, who was in Journey from 1998 to 2006. Augeri parted ways with Journey because of chronic throat problems.
Pineda’s remarkable story of his Journey experience was captured from 2008 to 2011 in a documentary film titled “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey,” directed by Ramona S. Diaz. The movie isn’t a fairy tale though, as it exposes Diaz’s insecurities about being accepted by his band mates and Journey fans; the racism he often encounters from people in and outside the music industry; his often uncomfortable adjustments to sudden fame and being away from his family; and his ongoing recovery from his former life as a drug addict. Although the movie is mainly about Pineda, the other band members — Schon, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, bass player Ross Valory and drummer Deen Castronovo — are featured prominently in the film, which shows the ups and downs of being in a world-famous rock band. The longtime members of Journey get candid too — especially Cain, who admits he was very skeptical at first about how Pineda would work with the band. And there are plenty of moments in the movie that will make people laugh and cry.
“Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey” had its world premiere at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 19. All of the band members except Valory and Castronovo attended the premiere, where there was a brief Q&A with the audience after the screening. At the after-party, held at the Hotel Gansevoort, the band performed Journey hits to an enraptured crowd. When “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, the movie was seeking distribution, so it is unknown at this point when or how the film will be released to the general public, but there’s a good chance it will eventually end up on home video and cable/satellite TV. At the premiere screening, Diaz and the band members made some brief remarks before they took questions from the audience. Here is what they said.
Cain: We just want to thank you all for coming and being a part of this. Thank you.
Pineda: Like I said, it’s not about being cute or being tall. It’s about inspiration; it’s about dreams that will come true some day.
Cain: We love this lady [Ramona S. Diaz], who had vision from the very beginning.
Diaz: As documentary filmmakers, we’re really beholden to the people we film … so thank you so much. You guys are a major act, and you let us in. We appreciate it, and you’ll never, ever forget it. This is a fantastic journey. [Some people in the audience groan at the unintentional pun.] This was an amazing, amazing experience for us coming on this tour with you. Thank you for letting s on.
Schon: It took me a while getting used to it. I wasn’t used to the cameras following me around.
Diaz: I bet these guys though it would never get made … It took us a while to make this film.
Cain: We knew you’d come through. You got a good story. Again, without your vision, this would never have happened.
Diaz: Aw, thank you!
What happened to the guy who uploaded the YouTube videos of Arnel Pineda that were discovered by Neal Schon? And where did you find your personal assistant?
Pineda: Noel, he’s still in the Philippines. Gavin, we’re still in contact. We text each other. [He says jokingly] We’re in a secret love affair. Don’t tell my wife about it!
Ramona, how long did you follow Journey for this movie?
Diaz: We followed them the first year [that Arnel was in the band]. That was in ’08, for the tour. And then we followed Arnel back [to the Philippines]. We filmed him when he went home after the first tour. And then, of course, when they went to Manila to perform. And then when they went back into the studio in 2010 to record the new album [“Eclipse”].
How did you know that Arnel would last in the band for more than a year and you would have enough footage to make an interesting documentary?
Diaz: You take a chance, right? I’m a documentary filmmaker. You never know what’s going to happen. And that’s what’s exciting: his life unfolding in front of the camera. But I kind of knew. He had the support of the band. You knew it was going to be for a long haul, but you take a chance.
Here’s Arnel, being plucked from Manila, to sing with a major American band: Journey. And with all their songs. How can you not make a story? It’s just a no-brainer.
How did you get involved in making this film? What inspired you?
Diaz: What inspires me was the story. It’s always the story. I had received this email which was forwarded to me, which was written by the immigration officer who gave Arnel his visa to the States to audition. He actually had to sing for his visa. It’s not easy to get an American visa. What did you sing, Arnel?
Pineda: “Wheel in the Sky.” [Several of the audience members ask him to sing the song, and he sings a few lines from the chorus.]
Did the movie’s story ever change for you?
Diaz: Well, no. You just film the story as it unfolds. You get the story as it unfolds in front of your camera. So that’s the story you actually end up with. You never know. That’s’ the beauty of documentaries. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s always a surprise. And that why I think that’s why I love documentary films: it’s never set in stone. It’s very Zen. Whatever happen, happens, so it’s very exciting.
For more info: “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey” website