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© Brian Hineline ./Retna Ltd./Corbis
When it was time for Jackson to mount what was intended to be his triumphant return (and some speculated his farewell) to the concert stage at London's O2 Arena for the series of This Is It concerts, his musical director recommended he check out a little-known, Australian-born guitarist he had just seen practically upstage Carrie Underwood at the 2009 Grammy Awards.
Orianthi Panagaris first picked up the guitar as a youngster, after witnessing her idol, Carlos Santana, perform. Although she progressed quickly and had shared stages with Steve Vai, Jeff Beck, ZZ Top and Prince, among others, she had to summon more than a little steely resolve when Michael Jackson came into an audition room to see what she could do.
"Michael came in and sat on the couch and I was told to play Beat It," Orianthi said. "He was sitting there just looking at me, staring into my face, watching every single thing I was doing. He was walking up and down at the front of the stage and asked me if I could play the Beat It solo while I followed him around at the pace he was walking at. He hired me that night."
Orianthi rehearsed with Jackson the night before he died. "I can't believe I got to play with him," she told MusicRadar last year shortly after the singer's death, "and I can't believe he's gone. It hasn't sunk in yet." Of the concerts she never got to play with The King Of Pop, she said, "It would have been so great. Michael really wanted to make those shows his personal best."