‘Don’t Stop Believin” Chronicles Journey Singer’s Rock and Roll Cinderella Story

Philip Yu
Movie Talk

"Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey" tells the real-life rock 'n' roll fairy-tale story of Filipino singer/songwriter Arnel Pineda, who went from the streets of Manila to stadium rock stardom when he was plucked from virtual obscurity to become the front man for the iconic American rock band Journey.

In 2007, Journey was in need of a lead singer. Desperate to find a front man to fit their anthemic sound, guitarist Neal Schon turned to YouTube. There he came across videos of Pineda singing covers of Journey songs, uploaded from the Philippines. Impressed by Pineda's vocals, Schon contacted Pineda, who promptly thought he was on the receiving end of a hoax. But it was indeed the real Neal Schon, guitarist and founding member of Journey, who invited Pineda to audition for the band. The rest, as they say, is history.

The documentary, directed by Ramona Diaz, chronicles Pineda's amazing Cinderella story, following the humble new star as he navigates the immense pressures of replacing legendary singer Steve Perry and rides the rocky balance of life on the road with a world-renown rock band.

"Don't Stop Believin'" opens in select theaters on March 8, and is available On Demand on March 9. While resting up before another show, Pineda spared a few moments to talk with Yahoo! Movies about the documentary and his incredible, ahem, journey.

Philip Yu: Can you tell me about when you first got that email from Neal Schon? You had to think it was a hoax, right?

Arnel Pineda: I thought it was a scam. Where I come from, it would be crazy to just believe an email like that. Plus the fact that I'd been scammed before. I got took for a couple of thousand of Hong Kong dollars because of believing in something on the internet. So, never again.

But my friend, the one who uploaded my live video performances on YouTube, he was pretty persistent. He was resolved that the email was for real, and really came from Neal Schon. So, you know, I gave in. I answered him back and gave him my number. And that was it. He called up, and to my surprise, it was Neal.

PY: And it changed your life.

AP: Forever.

PY: You basically went from starving artist to being the frontman for one of the most popular rock bands in the world. Was it daunting for you to be thrust into the spotlight like that?

AP: Oh, of course. But one great thing about this band, especially Jonathan [Cain] and Neal, they taught me how to be brave. How to be confident. They have boosted up my self esteem. They kicked me in the ass. "Just go do it. It's going to be great." They said, "Just use the magic wand" -- which is their music and melodies. Pretty much, I have changed. Before I met them, all my life, I was afraid. I had no confidence or self esteem and didn't believe in myself. But one thing about me, in all the hardships I've gone through, I've always relied and depended on my voice and the music that I loved listening to. That kept me alive and kept me going.

PY: Inevitably, somebody had to make a movie about you and your incredible story. When did Ramona Diaz come on board, and why was she the right filmmaker to tell your story?

AP: She just emailed me. She told me about her previous work, and I checked out he profile. She's pretty much legit. So we met and spoke, and I think I knew where she was coming from. Even though in the back of mind, I was thinking, "Oh my god, I'll be on the big screen. Me and my ugly face, and my short stature. I'm not eligible to be a movie star." But then I thought, it's okay. We're selling a story here. We're selling hope. Dreams, they do come true. Miracles can overcome misery and hardship. It's a very positive movie. So I believed in her.

PY: You mention your "short stature," and how you're much smaller than the rest of the band. But Arnel, when you're performing, you are larger than life. Your voice and your presence fill the stadium.

AP: Thank you. I know what you mean. But you know what? You can attribute that to the music. It's their music that is larger than life. The message it's trying to say to the people. It's not going to fade away. It still has relevance. Those melodies, they carry me, and we're all pretty much doing a great job.

PY: The film shows you becoming acquainted with Journey fans, and Journey fans getting to know you, the new lead singer. Can you talk about your first big gig with the band?

AP: It happened in Chile. In Viña del Mar, Chile. It was very scary. It was horrifying for me. I looked out five minutes before the show began. I peeked through the big curtain and saw these thousands of people. 19,00 people waiting for us to come out there and rock out. That really froze me and made me numb. I was just trying to compose myself and get myself together. It was now or never, you know? And I wanted it. It was something I'd dreamed about for as long as I can remember.

The only missing thing was that Steve Perry was not there. It would have been great if I could sing side by side with Steve Perry. But it was scary because it was just me and them. I had to go out there and sing all those hit songs for 19,000 Chileans.

But after peeking out from behind the curtain, I went back to the band and said, "Can I just go home? I don't think I can do this!" But Neal said, "Too late, brother," and then he kicked me in the ass. "Go out there, and let's do this."

PY: You have this immense fan following in the Philippines. You're like the rock 'n' roll Manny Pacquiao. What has the support of the Filipino and larger Asian community meant to you?

AP: You know, it keeps me going. It inspires me. It gives me a gratifying feeling. It makes me feel like I'm not alone in this. Besides my wife, my family, my kids with me, I have a whole country backing me up. I feel so proud about this thing I do with Journey. It's overwhelming. I'm just immensely thankful to them, and I hope I continue to make them proud in the coming years.

PY: There's a moment in the film when you express, even after a couple of years with Journey, that it's still unreal, and that part of you still feels like you're auditioning for the band. Do you still feel that way?

I still can't believe it. It's still a fairy tale. I represent the kids in the Philippines. We have a lot of that there, poor living conditions. It's worldwide. But kids around the world, especially in third world countries, we have dreams. I'm living my dreams.

PY: Your story is inspirational. Thank you, Arnel.

AP: Thank you so much. There's still so much story out there. Go get them.

Watch the theatrical trailer for 'Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey':