At the young age of 24, Orianthi Panagaris, Ori for short, has played her guitar with more music greats than many artists manage in a lifetime. I had the opportunity to speak with her recently about her experiences and her upcoming debut album. Orianthi was inspired to pick up the electric guitar at age 11 after seeing Carlos Santana perform and knew that her destiny was playing the guitar. She later got to jam with her idol at the age of 18, played with Prince, gave a performance at the Grammys with Carrie Underwood that put the music industry on notice, and then she was selected to perform in Michael Jackson's planned comeback tour This Is It. Now Orianthi has her first solo album titled Believe on the way. It will be out in stores October 26, 2009.
I asked Orianthi about being picked to play as part of Michael Jackson's This Is It comeback tour. She was contacted via MySpace and was asked to audition. "I didn't think it was for real at first," Orianthi says. "I was told to learn 'Beat It,' 'Dirty Diana,' and 'Wanna Be Starting Something'...I was so nervous...and then Michael came in, and I played for him. I was just praying to God I got it right. He was sitting on the couch staring right at me...He hired me that night, and I was really happy. It was an incredible moment." She went on to talk about the actual rehearsals that will be featured in the Michael Jackson's This Is It film. "It was amazing every time he came in to rehearse with us. Being such a big fan, every time he came in the room I wanted to make him happy...He was a perfectionist but really really nice."
I asked Orianthi if she had a favorite Michael Jackson song. She replied, "There are so many good songs. I love 'Stranger in Moscow'...I really could name the whole set list." Orianthi did admit there were reasons some songs were particularly special to her. "I love them all especially the songs I sort of came out and pranced around the stage playing...He actually gave me extra solos in 'Black or White.' He wanted me to play to the audience and hit my highest notes...He has such a high voice that trying to reach those notes he was singing...It was a really funny moment trying to find them."
Orianthi's solo album gives a fantastic opportunity to hear her singing voice as well as brilliant guitar work. Her style leans toward anthemic pop-rock with, naturally, fiery guitar solos. I asked Orianthi to talk more about her record. "Believe I've been working on for about three years...I'm really proud of this record. It's got a real 80's now vibe to it. There's guitar solos on every track. I've got one instrumental called 'Highly Strung,' and I wrote that with Steve Vai...I hope to inspire more female guitar players."
Next up for Orianthi is taking her music on the road to perform live. Look for a three guitar show. She says, "As long as I get to play my guitar every day, I'm very happy." Orianthi hopes those who come to her shows find the music empowering, and, "If they are not guitar players, and we inspire them to pick up the guitar...I really dig it." Look for Orianthi's album Believe in stores Monday, October 26, 2009.
Listen to Orianthi
Photo with Michael Jackson courtesy Sony
Solo photo courtesy Geffen Records