Orianthi Panagaris (born 22 January 1985), known professionally as Orianthi, is an Australian musician, singer and songwriter known for performing with Michael Jackson as part of his ill-fated This Is It concert series, and with Alice Cooper's touring band. Her debut single "According to You" peaked at No. 3 in Japan, No. 8 in Australia and No. 17 in the US; her second album, Believe, received a worldwide release in late 2009. In 2009, Orianthi was named one of the 12 Greatest Female Electric Guitarists by Elle magazine. She additionally won the award as "Breakthrough Guitarist of the Year" 2010 by Guitar International magazine.

Life and career

Early life

Orianthi Panagaris was born in Adelaide, South Australia, and is of Greek descent. She began playing piano at the age of three and, at the encouragement of her father, moved to acoustic guitar at the age of six. When she was eleven, she took up electric guitar and left her school, Mercedes College, enrolling at Cabra Dominican College. She additionally attended St Peter's Collegiate Girls' School for a short period. At the age of 15, she turned her focus to writing songs and so began her professional career. She has been playing in bands after the age of 14 and performed in her first stage show for Steve Vai at the age of 15. Orianthi met and jammed with Carlos Santana when she was 18. He invited Orianthi to get up and jam with him at soundcheck then later asked if she would join him on stage that night to jam at his Adelaide concert, Memorial Drive on 30 March 2003.

Orianthi independently released her debut studio album, Violet Journey in 2005, composing all the material, contributing guitar, vocals and drums on most cuts. She produced and mixed the final product at her home studio. Carlos Santana brought Orianthi to Paul Reed Smith's attention which led to her endorsement. Orianthi relocated to Los Angeles, signed with Geffen Records in late 2006 and struck a management deal with 19 Entertainment.

Orianthi has made a commercial for Panasonic HD, featured in the song "Now or Never" for Bratz: The Movie, played at the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival, appeared in The New York Times business section promoting eco-friendly acoustic guitars, and opened for Steve Vai in the US.

Breakthrough

Orianthi appeared at the 51st annual Grammy Awards in February 2009 as Carrie Underwood's lead guitarist, with Underwood inviting Orianthi to become a member of her band. Following that performance in addition to recommendations from industry professionals Michael Jackson's management reached out to Orianthi for an audition for This Is It concerts. Orianthi was hence Michael Jackson's lead guitarist and was present on all rehearsals for his This Is It concerts before his death. In regard to being handpicked by Jackson, she stated:

I don’t know exactly why he picked me, but he watched my YouTube videos and loved them. He had his choice of guitar players, but I came in and played the ‘Beat It’ solo for him. Afterward he was so happy he got up and grabbed my arm and started walking up and down the stage area with me. He said, ‘Can you play once for me?’ and hired me that night. I wish he was still around. He made me believe in myself more, and I learned so much. Going into it, I thought it would be all about playing guitar solos. But the majority of it was playing chords and funky rhythms.

She played and sang at Jackson's memorial, globally televised live on 7 July 2009. She appears in the film Michael Jackson's This Is It, which chronicles the rehearsals for the tour and shows her and Michael on stage. She presented an award at the 2009 American Music Awards, which Jackson won posthumously. Orianthi additionally appears on "We Are the World 25 for Haiti" – with the original co-written and partly performed by Jackson. She plays guitar on the song "Monster" by Michael Jackson featuring 50 Cent which was released on Michael on 14 December 2010.

Solo career/collaborations

Orianthi started working on her major label debut Believe in 2007 which was released in October 2009. The album produced the worldwide hit "According to You", which was the Single of the Week on iTunes on 27 October 2009, reached number 2 on US radio airplay and charted to number eight in Australia, three in Japan, and achieved platinum status in the US and Australia. The charismatic rock instrumental Highly Strung featuring Steve Vai became a popular YouTube video with millions of views and climbing, and her song "Suffocated" was featured on Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock as a playable song. Orianthi followed up with a four song EP including two singles "Shut Up and Kiss Me" and "Courage".

Orianthi appeared on several late night shows most notably on American Idol results show 26 March 2010. In 2010 she toured extensively with headlining shows in the US, Japan, Australia and Malaysia. She additionally opened for additional artists including: John Mayer, Mika, Kid Rock, Daughtry and over 30 dates for Adam Lambert’s Glam Nation Tour with former Idol contestant Allison Iraheta. Orianthi performed at various music festivals and charity functions most notably at the Stand Up to Cancer telethon.

Orianthi with A. R. Rahman throughout the recording of "Sadda Haq" in 2011

Orianthi has been quite prolific in collaborating and being featured by a large number of artists. She is featured on Iraheta's third single "Don't Waste the Pretty" and on Fefe Dobson's song "Can't Breathe" which appears on Fefe Dobson's album Joy released in November 2010. She has stated that the people she has collaborated with (i.e. Allison Iraheta and Lacey Mosley) are a few of her best friends.

She recorded for the song "Sadda Haq" composed by Academy award winning composer A. R. Rahman for a Bollywood 2011 film soundtrack Rockstar. The song became quite popular and garnered substantial media coverage in India for Orianthi, being cited for her time as Michael Jackson's lead guitarist.

On 12 October 2011, the 5 track EP Fire, produced by Dave Stewart was released as an iTunes download.

Her third studio album, Heaven in This Hell, was released on 12 March 2013.

Orianthi joined supergroup Hollywood Vampires on the track "Whole Lotta Love" for the band's 2015 self-titled debut album.

Touring guitarist

Orinathi performing with Alice Cooper throughout Alice Cooper's Halloween Night of Fear in 2011

On 29 August 2011, Orianthi was announced as Alice Cooper's new guitarist. She replaced Damon Johnson, who's now a member of Thin Lizzy. She was the first female member of the Alice Cooper band. Orianthi did two world tours with Alice Cooper, but resigned in June 2014 to be replaced by Nita Strauss.

Orianthi has appeared as a guitarist for additional stars including shows with Michael Bolton, Dave Stewart and James Durbin. She additionally appeared on the Top 7 week season 12 of American Idol on April 3, 2013 to play guitar for each of the performances. One month later Orianthi performed Fine China with Chris Brown at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards, and on December 8 of that same year she paid tribute to Carlos Santana, performing in the Kennedy Center Honors Gala. She spent most of 2013-2015 touring with Dave Stewart, started BeMyBand, and released a song She additionally toured with Richie Sambora in 2016

Philanthropy

Orianthi met with Little Kids Rock students at the annual trade show for music merchants (NAMM) in 2010 after they opened for her in front of an eager Anaheim crowd. The kids gave her an acoustic guitar they autographed and she joined LKR’s Honorary Board on that special day.

Discography

Filmography

Film
YearFilmRoleNotes
2009Rock PropheciesHerselfBrief appearance
Michael Jackson's This Is ItJackson's guitarist

Awards and nominations

YearTypeAwardResult
2009Elle Magazine12 Best Female Electric Guitar PlayersWon
2010Nickelodeon Australian Kids Choice Awards 2010Fresh Aussie MusosNominated
Billboard Japan Music Awards 2010Top Pop Artist 2010Nominated
Guitar International MagazineBreakthrough Guitarist of the Year 2010Won
201125th Japan Gold Disc Award 2010The Best 3 New Artists (International)Won
Tokio Hot 100 Awards 2010Best New ArtistNominated
2011 BMI Pop Music AwardsAward-Winning Songs – According to YouWon
Gibson GuitarsGuitar Gals: The Top 10 Female Guitar Players of All TimeWon
2013WiMN - She Rocks AwardsInspire AwardWon

Equipment

Guitars

She additionally has a special private stock PRS Custom 24 guitar, nicknamed "MJ", made for the "This Is It" concerts. This one of a kind guitar is decorated with Swarovski crystals.

Amplifiers