Early Biography: Living Off Scraps
Arnel Pineda was born in Sampaloc, Manila on 5 September 1967 and has three siblings, namely Russmon, Roderick, and Joselito. Their parents were both tailors and earn barely enough for their family of six. He started singing at the age of five. Both his parents were stunned when they heard how well Arnel could belt out high notes. This made his mother really keen on exposing Arnel to classic songs. It’s been a family tradition to gather around and watch as Arnel performed to his family members’ delight. He also made his parents proud whenever he’d win singing contests. Arnel was also more than happy to give his winnings to his mother who would in turn use it to pay for utility bills.
But behind their seemingly content family life was the burden of her mother’s health problems. She’s been battling with sickness for as long as Arnel could remember. It was his mother’s illness that buried the family in debt. When she passed away in her mid-thirties, Arnel’s father didn’t know how to raise his boys single-handedly. Things began getting worse until the family was forced to move out of their apartment after not being able to pay the rent for half a year. It got even worse when their debtors started hounding their father, making it impossible for him to support his kids with his meager income.
Arnel’s father had no other choice but to leave his children to the care of relatives. To ease out the burden, Arnel quit school and volunteered to fend for himself. The 13-year-old boy lived as a vagabond, prowling the streets of Manila and eating left-overs just to survive. For a time, he sold metal scraps for food and would sing for some lose coins.
For a year, he wandered the streets of Manila and learned how to live on his own. Arnel would often sleep on the sidewalk. When the weather is too bad, some friends would allow him to sleep in their homes or give him a spare cot to sleep in outside. In a nutshell, Arnel is living off other people’s pity and compassion. This would later on shape Arnel’s convictions on helping dirt-poor people rise above their circumstance. Although he wasn’t able to attend school, Arnel learned many lessons living in the streets. It taught him to man up and endure the harshest living environment.
Arnel’s Musical Career Begins
Arnel may be homeless but he did not become hopeless. As long as he has his voice, he knew that something good will come out of his life. When he was 15 years old in 1982, Arnel struck a friendship with someone who was friends with a group of musicians. Upon hearing Arnel sing, he was convinced that he’d make a good front man. The band members, however, were not so sure because Arnel had no proper training and he was a street kid for crying out loud. In short, they didn’t trust Arnel enough. But his voice was worth taking a risk for.
He was taken in by the group who called themselves Ijos. They did gigs in Shakey's Pizza Parlor somewhere in Taft, Metro Manila. For the first time in a long time, Arnel had a decent roof above his head. He was given a small room in one of the band members’ home. Arnel was thrilled to be part of a real band.
After four years, Ijos reformed the group and named it Amo. They joined Rock Wars, a contest for local Philippine bands, and brought home the bacon. Confident, the group joined Yamaha World Band Explosion after two years. Their group was able to make it on to the finals in Hong Kong but was unfortunately eliminated due to technicalities. Yamaha wanted them to sing their winning piece provided it’s an original one. Amo sung Bohemian Rhapsody in the Philippines, making them ineligible to go further in the contest. The following year, Amo opened for Robert Palmer during his Manila leg tour. Amo played together for one more year after in different local clubs. Although the group wasn’t able to reach national recognition, Amo was a popular entertainment band in clubs where they did gigs.
The crowd couldn’t seem to get enough of the small-framed rock star who could sing Aerosmith songs without breaking his larynx. Arnel was also a dynamic presence on stage. He sings from the heart and the audience saw through that.
In 1990, Arnel, with some Amo members, formed Intensity Five. Wanting to fulfill his dreams of winning the Yamaha World Band Explosion, Arnel joined the contest once again, singing an original composition this time around. The band made it on to the finals in Hong Kong and snatched the first runner-up spot. Arnel, on the other hand, was named the Best Vocalist.
That was the first international award Arnel received as an artist. Sadly in the same year, Amo was disbanded and Arnel formed another band with the other former members excluding band leader, Ulysis Ablang. They called themselves New Age and started playing after the release of Amo’s first and only album, Ang Tunay na Amo ("The Real Master"), in 1990.
Life in Hong Kong
In 1991, while playing with his band, an agent was impressed after hearing Arnel effortlessly sing high notes. The agent offered the band a gig at Grammy’s, an entertainment restaurant in Hong Kong. Arnel accepted the offer and left the Philippines in search for greener pastures. It wasn’t easy and far from glorifying. Arnel had to work out six days a week and got into a serious relationship that lasted for three years. Away from friends and family, Arnel started to develop vices and did not pay much attention to his health. When his serious relationship fell apart, Arnel succumbed to depression and lost his golden voice, his bread and butter.
Arnel had to go back to the Philippines to recuperate. It took six months before he got his voice back. He immediately returned to singing with his band. Four more years and they were again called by another name. New Age was offered by Igor’s to perform in their horror-themed restaurant. In order to fit in, they changed their name to Rolling Bones. Warner Bros. record label arranged for Arnel to fly back to Philippines when he’s not busy doing gigs to release his self-titled album. The Arnel Pineda album spawned Iiyak Ka Rin (You Will Cry Too) which soon gained following in the Philippines and became one of the most favorite songs sang in karaoke. Other than that, however, the album did not fare well sales-wise. Arnel is still yet to become a successful artist in his own country.
Arnel met Cherry as he was struggling to make a name in music. Without any luck save his Hong Kong gigs, Cherry loved Arnel for who he is. Arnel, on the other hand, began to take life seriously and avoided vices when he started going out with Cherry. The two were married in 2001 and became parents to Cherub and Thea. Cherry knew about Arnel’s two other children from previous relationships—Matthew and Angelo.
In the same year that Cherry and Arnel settled down, he sang the song Looking Glass in South Border’s The Way We Do album. South Border is a well-loved Philippine band. Despite that, Arnel still wasn’t given the break he wants and so he founded another band called 9mm. They played in The Hard Rock Café in the Philippines’ capital business district. Not earning enough for his growing family, Arnel went with his band to Hong Kong and performed there for three months.
Using some of his savings, Arnel and Cherry put up Rockville, a music bar, and opened a small eatery. Unfortunately, the business failed to flourish mainly due to Arnel’s trusting nature and the location’s lack for parking space. Both businesses are now defunct.
Arnel stayed in Hong Kong and formed another band called Most W@nted>, this time sharing the lead vocals with a female artist. The following year, a band called The Visitors was formed to promote a Filipino radio show called Dayo. Arnel was one of them and was joined by three members from Ijos, Amo, New Age and Most W@nted.
In 2006, Arnel got an offer from Sundance Entertainment Corporation which led to the formation of The Zoo. He was joined by Monet Cajipe, the guitarist of the bands Arnel has joined in the past. Their first album was called Zoology which included five songs written by Arnel himself, and another five which he co-wrote with Mark Valliente. That was the last local band he joined. Just as when he was about to leave the Philippines for Hong Kong again, he got an email from someone he never expected he would meet in his lifetime.
Arnel’s Unbelievable Journey Begins: Getting Discovered through YouTube
Over 8,000 miles away, Neal Schon of the respected American band, Journey, was feeling hopeless as he was browsing YouTube looking for an artist that may fill the post of their lead vocalist in time for their 40th anniversary. He was about to give up when he decided to check out one more clip—a cover of Faithfully done by a certain Arnel Pineda from Southeast Asia. Not expecting much, he began listening to Arnel’s rendition and was blown away by his voice’s uncanny resemblance to Steve Perry—the original voice behind Faithfully. Still dazed by his discovery, Neal decided to take a shower just to make sure that his ears were not fooling him. He listened to the clip again and was convinced that Arnel is the man they have all been looking for since Steve Perry decided to go solo.
The next thing he did was have the other members listen to the clip. Here’s the reaction they had as told by Ross Valory, Journey’s bass player to Oprah:
“From the first point that I heard [him] until he came over not long afterward to audition with us, we've had what I call GBS—goose bump surplus.” (Source: Oprah)
The next thing they did was communicate with the person who uploaded the video. He happened to be Arnel’s friend. The uploader gave Neal Arnel’s email address. Arnel relates the story to Men's Health magazine:
"I was in my house. The computer was on. My email was up. But I was putting groceries away with my wife and looking after our baby son, who was crawling around our little house in Manila. It was 9 in the morning—just another day for a simple family like us. Then suddenly, a meteor came right at our house and it changed our lives forever." (Source: Men's Health)
He was suspicious at first but he gave his contact number anyway. Neal rang him in less than 10 minutes after he has sent his reply. He accepted their invitation for auditions but had one problem—US visa.
In an instant, Arnel joined thousand Filipinos applying for US visa. He was almost declined because of his fantastic reason for going to the “land of the free.” When asked by the stern US immigration agent why he would like to go to the US, he meekly told her about Journey’s invitation and presented her the email he received from Neal Schon. Still not convinced, the agent asked him to sing Wheel in the Sky. After hearing Arnel sing, the agent told him:
"Look sir, there isn't a person in this embassy who would believe that story! So I'm giving you that visa. You're going to try out. And you're going to make it."
Arnel boarded the flight bound for the US with his manager Bert de Leon in August 2007. The two-day auditions would make or break his career as an artist. Nervous but utterly determined to make it Arnel regaled Journey members with his soulful tenor voice akin to that of Steve Perry. Needless to say, he got the part. Before 2007 ended, the Filipino artist who had a lackluster career in his home country was welcomed by the American people as the newest Journey member.
From a Struggling Artist to a Performer with Millions in Net Worth
His first album with Journey called Revelation debuted at No. 5 in the Billboard Top 200 album charts and became platinum. Not a bad start. Arnel then went with the band as they traveled to different parts of the world. From being an almost anonymous face in the Philippines, Arnel’s success was finally celebrated by his fellowmen.
Arnel is now valued at 15 million dollars, far beyond what he thought he’d ever earn as an artist. In 2012, Arnel’s story was made into a documentary directed by Ramona Diaz and titled Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey. The film won the Audience Choice Award during the 24th Palm Springs International Film Festival and solidified Arnel’s celebrity status in his home country and abroad.
To give back, Arnel put up his foundation called the Arnel Pineda Foundation, Inc. (APFI) to help under-privileged students in reaching their dreams and becoming productive citizens of the Philippines.
From someone who used to have nothing, Arnel Pineda couldn’t ask for anything more now except for his fellowmen to be equally successful in life as him. He will sing as long as he lives if it takes that to keep the Filipino people look forward to a better tomorrow.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Arnel Pineda Foundation, Inc. (APFI)
Awards and Achievements
- 1982: Became lead singer of Ijos at 15 years old
- 1986: Ijos formed a group called Amo that won the Rock Wars contest in the Philippines
- 1988: Amo won the Philippines leg of the Yamaha World Band Explosion
- 1989: Amo opened for Robert Palmer in Manila
- 1990: Formed another band called Intensity Five
- 1990: Intensity Five won first runner-up at the Yamaha World Band Explosion
- 1990: Won the Best Vocalist award
- 1991: Went to Hong Kong as front man of New Age
- 1998: Sang as one of the Rolling Bones
- 1999: Released an album called Arnel Pineda
- 2001: Sang one song, Looking Glass, with South Border
- 2001: Formed a band called 9mm
- 2002: Played for three months at The Edge in Lan Kwai Fong
- 2004: Formed a band called Most W@nted and played in Hong Kong
- 2006: Went back to the Philippines and formed The Zoo
- 2007: Released album with The Zoo called Zoology
- 2007: Joined Journey
- 2008: Debuted as the lead singer of Journey
- 2008: Released first album with journey debuted at No. 5 in the Billboard Top 200 album charts and became platinum
- 2009: Performed with Journey at the Super Bowl XLIII Pregame Show
- 2012: Don’t Stop Believin’ won the Audience Choice Award during the 24th Palm Springs International Film Festival
Wikipedia (Arnel Pineda)
Ain't It Cool (Capone's interview with Arnel Pineda)
Celebrity Net Worth (Arnel Pineda)
Men's Health (The Craziest Journey Ever)
Philippine Entertainment Portal (Arnel Pineda says Cristine Reyes suited to portray his wife in biopic)
CBS Local (Why Steve Perry Won’t And Shouldn’t Do A Reunion With Journey)
Biography (Arnel Pineda)
Philippine Daily Inquirer (Arnel Pineda: Journey to go on a hiatus after 2016)
Yahoo! (Arnel Pineda on how to avoid being duped)
ABS-CBN News (Journey's Arnel Pineda wants to be a chef)
Oprah (Don't Stop Believing in Journey)
Melodic Rock (Arnel Pineda: From Dusty Streets To Platinum Records)