EXCLUSIVE: Michael Jackson's guitarist Orianthi Panagaris speaks out

Since the untimely death of Michael Jackson, the world has taken note of the striking, blonde guitar player sharing the stage with the singer in footage that turned out to be the King Of Pop's last-ever rehearsal.

In just a few seconds of the song They Don't Care About Us, millions of fans understood what Jackson, Steve Vai, Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton, among others, have come to realize.

That the Australian-born Orianthi (full name: Orianthi Panagaris) is a dedicated guitarist who takes her craft seriously.

"Since I was three, music's been my life," Orianthi told MusicRadar in this excusive MusicRadar podcast. "I'm lucky that my family is musical. Music was encouraged. So when I saw Carlos Santana play and decided to really pursue the electric guitar in earnest, it was OK. My parents knew I was going to go for it."

Orianthi went for it alright, quitting school at 15 to devote herself to the guitar. A CD of hers made its way to Santana, who invited the fellow PRS-devotee to play with her on stage when he performed in Adelaide. "Since that moment, I knew I made the right choice," she says.

Big-time friends, big-time fans

"I can't believe I got to play with him, and I can't believe he's gone. It hasn't sunk in yet" Orianthi on Michael Jackson

Since that time, Orianthi has shared stages with Steve Vai, Jeff Beck, Prince and ZZ Top. But it was her star-turn performance with Carrie Underwood at the 2009 Grammy Awards that caught the eye of Michael Jackson's musical director. Asked to audition for Jackson's This Is It concert run, Orianthi nailed the gig on the first try.

All of which is now a surreal, bittersweet experience.

"I can't believe I got to play with him," Orianthi says, "and I can't believe he's gone. It hasn't sunk in yet." That today would have been the official start of Jackson's 50-date residency at London's O2 Arena hasn't escaped Ori. "It would have been so great, she says. "Michael really wanted to make those shows his personal best."

In the following podcast, Orianthi discusses working with Michael Jackson, and talks candidly about her last rehearsal with him. Switching gears, the 24-year-old superstar-in-the-making describes her early years as a player, her influences as a guitarist and vocalist, and she reveals details about her upcoming major-label debut.

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Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.