Michaele Salahi: Why She Left Her Husband for the Journey Guitarist

Michelle Cottle says Michaele Salahi’s latest stunt might be one rockin’ career move.

Just a small town girlLiving in a lonely worldShe took the midnight train going anywhere.

Screw Amtrak. This week, reality-TV diva and famed White House partycrasher Michaele Salahi hopped an afternoon flight to Tennessee to be with her erstwhile lover Neal Schon, the lead guitarist for Journey. It seems Michaele has been carrying on a self-described “intimate and passionate relationship” with Schon for some undetermined period of time. Michaele’s history with the rock group goes way back. Journey has played private gigs at the Salahis' now-bankrupt Virginia winery, and earlier this month, Tareq and Michaele partied with band members after a concert down the road in Bristow. Michaele’s Twitter fans may recall her Sept. 4 tweet: “w/ Journey live backstage having a rockin bumpin night! Oxo.”

Rockin' bumpin' indeed. Two weeks on, Michaele was apparently so overcome by her feelings for Schon that she couldn’t bear to remain apart. On Tuesday, she took off to join her ax-wielding love monkey on Journey’s Eclipse tour—a cross-country extravaganza featuring joint appearances with Foreigner and…wait for it…Night Ranger! Talk about an orgy of cheesy ’80s goodness.

Of course, this being the Salahis, Michaele would never consider cuckolding her husband without inviting all of America to watch in shock and awe. And so, rather than privately informing Tareq that she would henceforth be lovin’, touchin’, squeezin’ another, Michaela simply vanished from the couple’s home one afternoon without leaving so much as a so-long-sucker note taped to the fridge. When she didn’t return by evening, all hell broke loose. Tareq commenced to phoning the Warren County sheriff’s office, wailing that his beloved had been kidnapped. He also put out an SOS to the America people, announcing Michaele’s disappearance and pleading for info on her whereabouts.

Even after Michaele called the sheriff’s folks to assure them that she was fine but had no desire to return home, Tareq remained convinced of the worst. In a weepy interview on the local news Wednesday, he said Michaele had called him from an Oregon cell number (“which is very unusual; she would never do that”) and had been “very cryptic.” Someone must have forced her to place those calls, he reasoned. Reminding viewers of “the many death threats and many stalkers” the couple had faced in recent years, Tareq stressed that this was no publicity stunt. “I swear to God!” he blubbered. “This is not a joke.”

It fell to Journey’s rep to defuse the drama with a statement confirming that Michaele was indeed kicking it with Schon: “Nobody kidnapped her and they are in Memphis together.” Furthermore, they noted, Michaele would stick with the band as the tour progressed.

A devastated Tareq was left to cope the only way he knew how: by taking his heartbreak on Good Morning America.

Much of the public, unsurprisingly, suspects the Salahis' marital melodrama to be the latest ploy by the media-whoring couple to prolong their 15 minutes. There is even excited chatter on the Web about whether Tareq and Michaele’s assumed shenanigans could possibly rise to the level of criminality.

No question the Salahis are capable of such nuttiness. At this point, few would blink if one or both set themselves aflame on the plaza outside of 30 Rock just to up their Twitter following. That said, considering some of the side dramas afoot in Salahiland these days, I wonder if Michaele has in fact decided that she has gone about as far as she can with Tareq and it’s now time to trade up.

For starters, this Sunday is the day that assets from the Salahis’ Oasis Winery are to be auctioned off in accordance with its 2010 bankruptcy agreement. Grape presses, oak barrels, steam ovens, corks, labels, trucks, tractors, cases of Cabernet—by government decree, it’s all got to go. (For those interested in grabbing a piece of history, a list of on-the-block items can be found via the website of N.T. Arrington Auction & Appraisers.)

How unfun. How unglamorous. How declasse. What self-respecting social-climbing celeb would hang around for such a depressing reminder of her husband’s failures? Far sexier to listen to your rocker boyfriend play “Wheel in the Sky” night after night in front of thousands of shrieking fans.

Better still from Michaele’s perspective, perhaps a little of that Journey magic will rub off on her fledgling singing career.

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Here’s where running off with Schon—versus just running around with him—really starts to smell like a career move. In May, Michaele holed up in an L.A. recording studio and produced her very first pop single, “Bump It.” Auto-tuned to the max, Michaele’s voice on the track sounds wholly unidentifiable and only vaguely human. Her live performance of the song, however, is damn near unforgettable—and not in a good way. Her debut (on Miami local news in June) has been likened to a train wreck. But that implies it carries a spark of tension or drama. In truth, it is equal parts boring and cringe-inducing. Like watching some vaguely inappropriate relative vamp it up at a cousin’s wedding. In a really, really short zebra-striped dress and five-inch do-me pumps.

With visions of pop-stardom dancing in Michaele’s head, hobnobbing with Journey offers the tantalizing opportunity to rub shoulders with music-industry types and bask in the reflected glow of bona fide rock stars. Who knows? Someone might even take her seriously as a performer—or, barring that, teach her how to dance without looking like she’s about to topple over. At the very least, being a groupie will make her feel younger and more like one of the cool kids than if she were to stick around dealing with Tareq’s endless financial and legal issues.

No one can say how all of this will play out, but one thing is clear: If this is indeed the end of Team Salahi, the world of reality famemongers will be a drearier place going forward. As a J. Lo wannabe, Michaele is appalling, but as a reality-TV celeb, she and Tareq have an awesome sort of gift.

“You gotta admit, not everybody could pull this off,” observes Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. Even in the bizarro world of reality-TV climbers, the Salahis are special, says Thompson. “First they crashed the White House. Then she gets on a major reality-TV show. And now this whole thing: For awhile there’s a report that she’s been kidnapped. Then it turns out that, no, she’s not kidnapped, she’s run off. But who has she run off with? The guitarist from Journey! The hits just keep on coming with these guys.”

As for people who dismiss Tareq and Michaele as “famous for being famous,” their logic is all wrong, says Thompson. “I get infuriated by that phrase,” he fumes. “There’s all this talk about Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith and the Salahis as people who are famous but can’t do anything well. But they do do something well,” he insists. “We just haven’t quite defined what it is yet.”

Which is why I suspect Tareq’s tears of the past few days were at least a little geniune. If not because he feared for his wife’s safety, then because he fears she really is thinking about moving on and destroying their hard-won fame gains. Together, the Salahis are a spotlight-grabbing force to be reckoned with. Torn asunder, who knows? Post-divorce, Kate and John Gosselin are still out there somewhere appalling people but at nowhere near the level of when they were husband and wife.

What if the same fate awaits the Salahis? With those legs and that zebra microdress, Michaele might be able to cobble together a second act. But poor Tareq could easily wind up alone and forgotten amid the ruins of his family’s winery, crying himself to sleep each night as “I’ll be Alright Without You” plays in an endless loop on his iPod.