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In the Spotlight with Orianthi

Lauren Dukoff, Courtesy of Universal Music

Raw footage of Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” tour rehearsals captures female guitarist, Orianthi Panagaris’ innate gift of musicianship. In a few smooth strums of the guitar, she masters the edgy riffs of “They Don’t Care About Us”, delivers a riveting “Beat It” solo, and later shreds “Black or White” under Jackson’s guidance.

Panagaris’ stint on the King of Pop’s ill-fated tour enamored guitar enthusiasts and professionals alike, as she tackled each number with the poised, well-versed elegance that comes with being a female guitar player.

Reflecting on the experience, the Australian native comments, “The whole thing was like a dream. June 25th marked 2 years since he passed, and it’s crazy to look back on all the memories of going in everyday and playing songs with the greatest entertainer that ever lived. To have the honor of being in his presence and learning from his is incredible.”

Working alongside an artist as laudable as Jackson proved to be familiar territory for the guitar goddess, having previously jammed out with musical trailblazers including, Steve Vai, Carlos Santana, Prince, and Carrie Underwood. Orianthi admits, however, that joining forces with the King of Pop was an experience like none other.

“Every day going in there, he was so particular about every part,” she reveals. “The dancing, the music, and the whole show had to be spot on. I would stay awake night after night, trying to get the parts just right. He was really cool. He just wanted us to reach higher and do our best.”

After falling short of her tour debut, Panagaris channeled Jackson’s meticulous and thorough nature on her debut album, “Believe”. Showcasing Avril Lavigne-inspired vocals framed by a heavy rock sound and nuances of radio-friendly pop, “Believe” sparked further interest and anticipation for her follow-up record.

“[My next album] should be out this year,” she responds to her fans’ urgent plea for new material. “I’ve been working on lots of songs and writing every day, so we should have something out by this end of the year.”

In contrast to her rock-pop prevalent lead album, Panagaris claims to have infused a more soulful qedge on her upcoming release, inspired by the work of her early influences, such as Blue Condition, Eric Clapton, and Bon Jovi.

“It’ll be a lot of rock and blues,” she says. “It’s definitely edgier. I guess when you play show after show, you find what you’re most comfortable with.”

The album’s tracklist, as the guitar player describes it, will be the result of an organic songwriting process.

Of her writing approach, she shares, “Sometimes songs can start with a lyric—I jot things down that come to my mind, things I’ve gone through, or stories about other people. I like to put a lot of emotion into my music, but you never really know how writing a song can start. It’s different every time, so that’s the cool thing about it.”

Panagaris’ recording sessions remain just a facet of her fast-paced career, with performances and tours rivaling her studio time. Since departing from Jackson’s “This Is It”, the singer-songwriter-guitarist has appeared on stage with John Mayer, Kid Rock, Daughtry, and Adam Lambert, among others. Most recently, she appeared on Michael Bolton’s “Steel Bars” from his recently released album, “Gems: The Duets Collection”.

“I was called in to play on the Gems Collection and that was difficult, because I grew up listening to his music,” she raves. “I had a lot of fun [with Bolton]—he’s really cool and an amazing singer. We recently had a couple of shows in New York and that was a lot of fun too. I won’t forget it.”

What began with a remarkable entrance into the world of music has flourished into an impeccable and soon-to-be monumental career as a musician and artist. Whether she flaunts the slew of her collaborative efforts or her own catalogue, Orianthi has seamlessly etched an indelible mark on the music industry.

Choosing the bigger thrill, however, is a tougher call for her.

“I like doing both,” she hesitates. “Being a guitar player is very freeing for me, because I can run around the stage and play. I love performing by my band and singing. It’s also always a thrill to meet such incredible people. All of them have been super sweet, humble, and encouraging. I’m blessed to have worked with them.”

Credits: Orianthi Panagaris, Lindsay McCall

© Veronika Tacheva, 2011. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from the author is strictly prohibited.

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