It wasn't. Looking to replace Journey's original singer, Steve Perry (he stopped touring with the group in 1998 after a hip injury), guitarist Neal Schon had stumbled upon Pineda's jaw-dropping concert videos on YouTube. "I couldn't believe how good he sounded live," says Schon of Pineda's dead-on Perry vocals. "I told my manager, 'I found the guy [in] Manila.' He asked, 'Does he speak English?' I said, 'When you sing like that, you don't need to!'"
For Pineda (who grilled Schon in English before realizing the offer was legit), just making it to YouTube was a miracle. His family was so poor that after his mom died when he was 13, he chose to live on the streets. "My dad had other mouths to feed—I'd be a burden," says Pineda. He slept in parks, collecting bottles and newspapers and eventually singing for money. While daunted by fans' expectations for Journey's new album, Revelation
, and summer tour, Pineda knows he's living a fantasy. "Everything is a dream," he says. "The only difference is I am awake."
See Arnel Pineda sing with Journey and hear more of the band's interview at PEOPLE.COM/JOURNEYVIDEO
Arnel Pineda had been fooled by Internet scams before. So when the Manila, Philippines-based singer of an '80s cover band got an e-mail asking him to audition to be the frontman of Journey—the group that rocked the decade with power ballads like "Don't Stop Believin'"—he didn't buy it. "I thought it was a big hoax," says Pineda, 41.