Pop & Hiss

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Getting to know Orianthi

October 29, 2009 |  6:37 pm


She's performed with Steve Vai and Santana, and Pop & Hiss has already raved about her scene-stealing appearance with Carrie Underwood at this year's Grammy Awards.

Right now, filmgoers across the country are seeing her in "Michael Jackson's This Is It." Had Jackson's comeback concerts gone on as planned, Orianthi would be the guitar slinger next to the King of Pop. Her debut album, "Believe," was released this week, and she'll be featured in Friday's Calendar section.

Here is an excerpt of Orianthi discussing her time rehearsing with Jackson. Steve Appleford wrote the story. After the jump, view rehearsal footage of Jackson and Orianthi.

She had been drafted to re-create signature guitar parts originated by the likes of Slash and Eddie Van Halen, to stand beside Jackson onstage at the O2 Arena and deliver real playing ability through 50 sold-out nights. Then, on June 25, just weeks before opening night, Jackson was dead of heart failure.

Soon, footage of the striking 24-year-old guitarist and Jackson dramatically playing off each other in a windblown rehearsal at Staples Center was seen across the hungry media-sphere.

"It was a huge shock for all of us. Our hearts just sank," Orianthi said of getting the news at Staples, where the band already had gathered for another full day of rehearsals. "It felt like he hadn't actually gone. It was too much of a shock. He was with us the night before and he seemed so full of energy."

The guitarist (full name: Orianthi Panagaris) expected to be well into the "This Is It" concerts by now, while preparing to release her debut solo album, "Believe," which hit retailers this week.

She began writing and recording the album for Geffen Records after arriving in Los Angeles from Adelaide, Australia, three years ago. Its release was supposed to happen during a break in the O2 schedule, but now coincides with the theatrical opening of the posthumous “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” documentary, drawn from 120 hours of rehearsal footage.

"He was a big kid who wanted to have fun, but he was so serious about his music," Orianthi said. "He was a perfectionist and wanted to make sure it came across really well for his fans. He wanted to put on the ultimate show for them."

She auditioned for Jackson in late April on a Burbank soundstage. "I was so nervous and he was staring right at me," she said, still excited by the memory. "Afterwards, he was really happy and he grabbed my arm. We started walking up and down the stage area, and he asked me if I could play the solo while walking with a real fast pace with him."

Orianthi got the job -- as guitarist and sometime vocalist -- and joined a band of veteran R&B and pop players, picking up funky instrumental bits she hadn't known before. Jackson and director Kenny Ortega also had her stretch beyond the recorded songs, she says.

"They actually wanted me to add my own flavor to it," Orianthi said. "So I added some extra stuff. . . . I use my tremolo bar a lot, so I incorporated that. It's hard to solo when you're walking around, especially when you're in Michael Jackson's presence. There are easier things in life to do."

Read the full story.

Photo credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times