The previously-unknown vocalist was hired in 2006 after guitarist Neal Schon saw him covering Journey tracks in a YouTube video.
But nothing could have prepared him for one of his first appearances with the band, in Vina del Mar, a sold-out show which was being televised live across South America.
Schon tells Rolling Stone: “We there him in the fire, no doubt about it. Two seconds before we go, Arnel is like: ‘Can I go home? I don’t want to go out.’
“It was fear and loathing to the max – but then he went out, and he went for it, and the audience went nuts.”
Pineda recalls: “I was terrified to death. It took years, but I survived it.”
He knows his position is a dream come true, but he admits: “I get really homesick inside. I would miss my life without my wife.”
His story is celebrated in documentary movie Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey. Schon says: “He brings it – he sings his heart out every night and it’s not an easy menu.”
But it’s involved more changes to Pineda’s life than fans might expect: “I had to give up dairy products, beer, wine, spicy food,” says the singer. “And no talking. I like talking, but it’s become a luxury to last even through a ten-minute talk.
“I have to go back to my room and silence… until the next gig happens.”
Schon – whose band may never make another album – recently said he’d love to reconnect with classic-era singer Steve Perry, commenting: “We had amazing chemistry together. I love him with all the love and admiration you could have.”