For those who grew up watching VH1’s Behind the Music, certain kinds of rock documentaries have a familiar feel. The band rises, usually after coming together in some unusual way, and then achieves improbably fast success, only to fall deep into excess and drift apart. For those episodes about bands from the past still continuing to play, there’d be some sort of optimistic tone struck about where the band is now and why the next tour will be the big one. Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey provides a fresh outlook, the “…later” that follows the “Ever after”. By chronicling the selection of Filipino cover band singer Arnel Pineda to become the lead singer of Journey just before one of the band’s international tours, the documentary provides an intriguing look at an unlikely Cinderella story.
After replacing legendary lead singer Steve Perry once before, the main creative forces behind Journey, guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Jonathon Cain are shown looking high and low for a new lead singer, after Perry’s previous replacement was forced to leave due to vocal problems. Schon and Cain, increasingly desperate for a singer, as the band is about to embark on a major tour and intends to record an album, soon turn to YouTube, where, late one night, Schon stumbles on fan video of Arnel Pineda, singing Journey hits from clubs and auditoriums in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia. Since none of the other options seem reasonable, the band brings in the incredibly nervous and excited Pineda, who must prove, both to himself, and to the skeptical Cain, that he can do the job vocally. After a successful audition, Pineda lands the job, and the film follows Pineda’s first tour with the band as lead singer. Interspersed with backstage and concert footage from the tour are interviews with the band and Pineda, as both recount their past that led to their coming together, and Pineda voices his fears and hopes about what his newfound success will bring.
Director Ramona Diaz largely sticks to the formula, and with good reason. She must have known right away that she had a great story to tell without resorting to many tricks. As a documentary subject, Pineda is compelling, both because of the unique and modern way his talents were discovered, but also because he’s honest about where he was coming from as an artist, and where he was personally, before getting the call from Journey. It’s clear from the interviews, too, that the band legitimately likes Pineda, and sees him as a way to reinvigorate the group. There’s also some charming vignettes about the impact Pineda’s inclusion in the group has had on the band’s fans in the Filipino community. The film also has some interesting dramatic elements, especially as Pineda battles a bad cold during an important leg of the band’s tour, impressing his veteran band-mates with his vocal abilities and his ability to fight through adversity. In particular, drummer Deen Castronovo and bassist Ross Valory come across as very complimentary of Pineda’s abilities and as legitimately good people.
The formulaic approach doesn’t work throughout, however. The shadow of Perry hangs over the first half of the movie, and he’s referenced a number of times, as if there was going to be a payoff of a rival show or a meeting between he and Pineda that doesn’t happen. The history of the band is actually fairly well known, and those vignettes distract from Pineda’s own story, which is more than compelling enough. The climax of the documentary also seems misplaced. The concert in Manila, Philippines that closes the film seems far more important than the California concerts that precede it, and more attentions should have been given to the impact it had on the area. There are also hints that perhaps the band’s fans won’t accept the new singer, either for racial reasons or for loyalty to Perry, but no interviews with the fans outside the arenas before shows seem to indicate that was an issue for anyone who went to the shows. It was almost as if Diaz expected this to be an issue, found that it wasn’t but then included it anyway.
But, on the whole, the documentary makes for an interesting look at both Pineda’s inspiring personal story, as well as the mechanics at work for a touring band like Journey, just in terms of the work they must put in. For rock fans of any stripe, it will be time well spent.