How does it feel to be plucked from relative obscurity in the Philippines and catapulted into the role of front man for the legendary American rock band Journey?
A new documentary, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York last night, follows the journey of Filipino singer Arnel Pineda from the streets of Manila to mega concert venues with a legendary band.
The film was directed, written and produced by Filipino-American Ramona Diaz, who said when she first heard about Pineda’s story, she knew someone had to make a movie about it. She just didn’t realize at the time it would be her, she said during a telephone interview.
“One thing led to another, and pretty soon we were talking with the manager, and pretty soon, we were on tour with them,” she said.
Pineda’s is a true rags-to-riches story. At 12, his mother died, leaving him homeless. As a child, he lived in poverty in his native Manila, at times resorting to collecting scrap metal just to get a little money for food.
“I would hang out with my friends and they would make me sing in exchange for food,” he says in the movie. “I’d tag along just so I could eat. Then we would go to the park and I’d sleep there with other homeless kids.”
Over the years, he drifted in and out of bands and was eventually successful enough to relocate to Hong Kong in 1991. After 15 years performing there, he returned to Manila, where he hoped he would at least make it big in the Philippines.
While playing in a cover band called The Zoo, an avid fan began to post videos of Pineda on YouTube. Pineda’s voice is eerily reminiscent of Journey’s iconic ex-lead singer Steve Perry’s, and as luck would have it, Journey was seeking another lead singer.
Several months after the videos started to be posted, Diaz said Neil Schon, Journey’s guitarist, called, and soon thereafter Pineda was with the band on the road and in the recording studio.
“This was coming out of nowhere. He was not a YouTube sensation back in the Philippines,” said Diaz. “He was not a star; he was singing in small clubs.”
After spending a lot of time on the road with Pineda and the band during a tour, Diaz said all of the fame and glory has not gone to the singer’s head.
“In the film he talks about how everything is fleeting. It’s up and down. It’s a cycle. He’s on the up, but he knows it’s not going to be forever. He’s been around the block. He tried to make a career for 20 years in the Philippines,” she said. “It’s hard to keep your feet on the ground. It’s amazing Arnel has been able to. You live in a bubble. People start telling you you’re God’s gift to this band.”
Another challenge Pineda faced was getting Steve Perry fans to accept him, Diaz said.
But that has become less of a problem.
“When you watch him perform you can’t help but really be blown away,” she said. “I think reluctantly he really converted some die hard Perry fans.”