Orianthi has wavy blond hair, a warm smile and a cute Aussie accent. But whatever you do, don’t underestimate her. She’s only 24, but she can already shred on a guitar better than rock stars twice her age. She’s so good, in fact, by the time she was 18, she had already opened for Steve Vai and jammed with Carlos Santana. And as if that weren’t cool enough, Michael Jackson selected her to be his lead guitarist for his “This Is It” tour. Dreams really do come true.
Sadly, Orianthi’s time with Jackson was cut short after his tragic death, but she always sticks to her mantra: Don’t let negativity hold you down.
She reflects on the three months she spent with Jackson positively, albeit a little wistfully. “He was encouraging and wanted all of us to do our best, project our energy and just put on an amazing show,” she says. Jackson helped build her confidence, and made her believe in herself. “It was an amazing and really, really surreal experience.”
Despite the cancelled Jackson tour, Orianthi is keeping busy. Her debut album, “Believe,” hit shelves October 27, just one day before “This Is It,” the Jackson documentary opened in theaters. Orianthi is featured extensively throughout the film.
“Believe” is an energetic, invigorating mix of pop and rock that could easily fit between Kelly Clarkson and Ashlee Simpson-Wentz on Top 40 radio, or after The Donnas on a rock station. There’s also a heavy 80s influence, and of course, a shrieking and wailing guitar solo in every song. But unlike some of her contemporary female singer-songwriters who only throw on a guitar to strum a few chords for a music video, Orianthi really knows how to rock. Avril Lavigne only wishes she could make an album like this.
Growing up in Adelaide, Australia, Orianthi was surrounded by music from a very young age. At age 6, she picked up one of her dad’s guitars and hasn’t put it down since. She recalls sitting for hours, just playing song after song on her acoustic guitar.
“I think in life, you should go with what you get and what you’re passionate for,” she says. “I didn’t really get math, and I didn’t really get science or anything in school but I felt music was my calling.”
It was Carlos Santana’s soulful live performance that really inspired her at age 11. “After watching him perform, I didn’t want to play classical anymore because it was kind-of boring,” she says with a small laugh. She quickly switched to electric guitar.
Three years ago, Orianthi was offered a record deal by Geffen and moved to L.A. to write and record. “Believe”has been a long time in the making, but her hard work really shines through in the finished project.
When she first got a Myspace message from Jackson’s music director inviting her to audition for the band, she didn’t think it was real. But soon enough, she was playing in front of Jackson himself. She had never been so nervous in her entire life.
After Jackson hired her, Orianthi worked hard to learn all the songs and make sure all the music sounded just right. “Every time he’d come in the room, I’d get nervous because I wanted to make him happy,” she says.
His death hit everyone in the band hard. Seeing “This Is It”once it was released to the public was tough but as usual, Orianthi tries to stay upbeat. “It was very emotional but fun looking back on some amazing memories working with the ultimate entertainer,” she says.
Just like Jackson, Vai, and Santana influenced Orianthi, she hopes to be an inspiration to kids around the world. “I really hope to inspire more young girls to pick up the guitar and keep at it,” she says.”It wasn’t easy being a female guitar player growing up and lining up at the auditions with the guys at school. It was pretty difficult but if I can inspire more females to get started, that would be amazing.”
Next up for Orianthi: a tour. She’s excited to go out on the road and start playing some of her new songs. No matter what happens, she knows everything will work out. “If I can play guitar every day, I’ll be happy,” she says.
Orianthi’s “Believe” is available in major music retailers everywhere, including iTunes and Amazon.