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Movie review: The Journey of a lifetime for one everyman rocker

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

The YouTube era has seen many stars shine, but no story -- not even Justin Bieber's -- is as extraordinary as that of Arnel Pineda.

You might not have heard of the Filipino singer, but you've certainly heard of the American group he now fronts: Journey. The 1980s band that did power ballads like no other has been given a new lease on life, thanks to the inclusion of its signature hit, "Don't Stop Believin'," in recent film -- "Monster" -- and television -- "The Sopranos," "Glee." Though Journey's popularity has never waned among a group of hardcore fans. Some of them like to pretend they've never grown up, as they listen again and again to the songs played at their high school dances. Other, newer fans are likely attracted to the same simple sentimentality that has made "Don't Stop Believin' " an American anthem.

What sets Journey apart from the other classic rock dinosaurs is its insistence on sounding exactly the same. Frontman Steve Perry left the band in 1987, rejoining it briefly in the mid-1990s before leaving again. Perry's style is so singular that Jon Bon Jovi dubbed him simply "The Voice." But every vocalist the remaining members have found to replace him -- and they've gone through a few -- have been forced not only to sing the songs Perry sang, but to sing them just like he sang them. No one has done this as well as the band's current frontman, Arnel Pineda.

"Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey" is a strange thing to call the documentary about Pineda's work with the band. The guy is anything but an everyman. That's not to say he hasn't seen the hardships of the everyman -- he's seen more than his share of them. As a teenager, Pineda spent years homeless on the streets of Manila after his mother died. He sang for his supper even then.

On screen
'Don't Stop Believin' '
» Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
» Starring: Arnel Pineda, Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory
» Director: Ramona S. Diaz
» Rated: Unrated (brief language)
» Running time: 105 minutes

"I would hang out with my friends, and they would make me sing in exchange for food," he recalls in the doc. "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."

He worked his way up to some acclaim, first in Hong Kong, then back in his native Philippines. A big fan of his band, the Zoo, posted some of their covers on YouTube starting in March 2007. A few months later, Journey founder and guitarist Neal Schon was up late, trolling through the site, desperately looking for a new singer for the band. He knew all the Journey tribute bands. "I was looking for someone a little more special than that," he says. He found him, listening to the Zoo's cover of a Journey song, as well as tracks by other bands of the same era. "It's unreal," Schon thought, listening to the chameleon who could sound like the lead singer of whatever band he was covering.

Schon got Pineda's contact information from the fan who'd uploaded the songs on YouTube, and sent him an email in June 2007 with the subject line "Interested in singing with the real band Journey?" In it, he insisted that "this is not a joke." Pineda didn't believe him at first, but a trip to San Francisco to audition with the band changed his mind -- and his life.

This is a heartwarming story -- "I'm living a fairytale right now," the charming Pineda says -- but it's not without its dark moments. Journey fans can be a racist bunch, it seems, and not all of them were happy with the Asian who sounds almost exactly like Steve Perry. It might be a fairytale for the Filipino, but it's also a strange situation: "How will my real self come out?" he admits wondering at first. (The funniest moment in the movie comes at the beginning, when Pineda talks to someone who works at his alma mater. "You sing well, I suppose," she says. "Not really," he responds.)

The band sums up this fascinating story, with its highs and lows, in a single sentence: "How do you take someone from a Third World country and throw him into this circus?"

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