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Livewire's One on One
By Andy Argyrakis
Publicity photos
Orianthi Michael Jackson's guitar goddess Orianthi springboards to solo stardom

June 10, 2010

Even though it would be easy to assume Orianthi sprung to solo stardom as a result of being the guitarist in Michael Jackson's "This Is It" band (and starring in the subsequent movie), the 25-year-old goddess was actually making music since she was just 6. In fact, she scored a record deal with Geffen Records long before hooking up with the King of Pop thanks to time on stage with Steve Vai, Carlos Santana and Carrie Underwood, which led to the recording of her official debut disc Believe. Though the Jackson comeback was never to be given his untimely death, Orianthi picked up the pieces to write and record some new tunes on the brand new Believe II on the heels of the life-changing experience, as she shares during a recent chat from the road.

What should concertgoers expect whenever you take the stage?

Orianthi: There is lot of rock and lots of guitar solos, but I just like to have fun. My whole goal is to inspire kids to get into music and pick up the guitar, so they can expect a lot of high energy rock songs and to have a lot of fun.

From your perspective, how have all the band-oriented video games helped get kids into playing music?

Orianthi: I think it's cool that "Guitar Hero" is coming out because it's getting kids to hear older songs and they can learn about an artist through that. After playing that game, they may want to pick up the real thing. I have a lot of guitar solos in my songs that will hopefully inspire more [kids] to get into guitar. I couldn't imagine life without it!

You're still relatively young by music business standards, but you seem to be a veteran player already.

Orianthi: I've been playing guitar for 18 or 19 years, basically since I was 6. I played piano before that when I was 3, so I can't remember not playing music. It's something I've always just loved and I couldn't imagine day going by without picking up my guitar or writing or creating.

What was it like being able to play with so many of your idols, starting with Steve Vai and then Santana?

Orianthi: It was pretty crazy. [Opening for Steve Vai] was first support slot ever and I was so nervous because he's like one of the best players in the world. But Steve's been super encouraging, he's listened to my demos and we even wrote a tune called "Highly Strung" together that's on my new record. He's an awesome guy and an incredible player. Orianthi [As for Santana], I couldn't feel my legs I was so nervous! He's the reason I wanted to play electric guitar and I got to meet him at a soundcheck. I just thought I was going to get a guitar signed, but we wound up jamming and he invited me on stage in front of ten thousand people and we jammed for like forty minutes! He asked me to play the solo for "The Game of Love" and it was pretty crazy the whole night. Once again, he was a super cool guy and very encouraging.

Why do your CDs have Believe in the title?

Orianthi: I just think it's so important to believe in yourself. Without that, you can't move forward or be what you want to be. Fear holds lot of people back, but they need to get themselves out there and take risks. Some play it safe, but I want to put records out and travel the world, which being a female, is not easy.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a girl with a guitar?

Orianthi: I get judged lot more and I have to play twice as hard to get respect. From the vibe I've gotten, some guys come and just look at you until you play twice as hard for them and then they know you're okay.

Who have been some of your female musical influences?

Orianthi: Bonnie Raitt and Jennifer Batten. I remember seeing [Jennifer] when I was 10 on TV playing a concert with Michael Jackson and thought she was the coolest thing ever just ripping it up with girl power.

Speaking of MJ, what led you to joining his band?

Orianthi: I actually got an email first from Mike Bearden, his musical director, who wanted me to come in and play. He showed videos of me to MJ and I thought "wow, this is really incredible," though it didn't sink in at first. He wound up hiring me that night and it was an amazing three months. It was like boot camp with so many songs to learn and Michael was all about perfection. I felt like I was thrown into the ocean being the youngest one there and I wanted to make him happy and everyone happy, so a lot of nights I wouldn't sleep and I'd just practice every part. It made me step up as a musician and it was such an honor. I wish he was still with us.

What are your fondest memories of being involved in his "This Is It" movie?

Orianthi: It was a real honor to work with Michael and everybody. He had so many incredible musicians who've been playing such a long time and I was able to learn off them. We felt like family and I'm in contact with all of them. I remember watching Michael being so amazing in the way he would instruct people and it was just an incredible time in my life.

How did the movie expand your audience?

Orianthi: So many people saw the movie and I get emails from quite a few that are just getting into it. I've been getting a lot of support from his fans and it's been great. They've been coming out to the shows we play and it's really great.

Orianthi opens for Adam Lambert at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, IN on Thursday, June 17.

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