At first glance, clean-cut Christian rocker Marc Martel might not seem the obvious choice to reincarnate Freddie Mercury, Queen’s flamboyant lead singer.
But when the boyish-looking Montreal-area native opens his mouth and belts out some of the British band’s songs, it’s as though Mercury is in the room.
“We definitely have a very similar instrument as far as our vocal cords go,” Martel said in a telephone interview as he prepared for the final round of auditions in Los Angeles today for The Queen Extravaganza Tour.
Martel, who is based in Nashville, Tenn., is one of the finalists to interpret Mercury in a Queen cover band being set up by Roger Taylor, the former drummer of the legendary group.
Martel hasn’t yet met Taylor, who will produce the tour, and says the thought of doing so is “kind of surreal now.”
Martel, 35, has already performed Queen’s “Somebody To Love” on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and won the MTV O Award for Best Fan Cover. His audition video on YouTube has recorded more than five million hits.
The other six Canadians who will audition for Taylor and a panel of judges for spots in the band are vocalist David Martel (yes, they’re brothers); Edmonton vocalist Tyler Martin; Toronto guitarists Roy Ziv and Tristan Avakian; Vancouver guitarist Jason Du Preez; and bassist Francois-Olivier Doyon from Quebec City.
There are 26 hopefuls in all.
A decision on who makes the cut is expected soon after.
Taylor said in a statement he’s looking forward to the auditions.
“It’s going to be a long and difficult day, but the end of the first stage of the long and exciting road to the opening of The Queen Extravaganza.”
Marc Martel didn’t just step out of nowhere. He’s already won three Juno Awards with his band Downhere, which he formed while in college in Saskatchewan 10 years ago.
He chuckles when he says people seeing his YouTube video often wonder where he came from and say he should really sign a record deal.
“I’ve been doing this professionally for 10 years now and we’ve got three Juno Awards,” he said of the band, which has 10 albums. “I feel like I’ve had 10 years to prepare for this.”
Music was always present in Martel’s house when he was growing up. His father is a pastor in a town near Montreal and his mother still handles the church’s music.
He remembers his mother playing Beethoven on the piano as he went to sleep as a child, although his musical tastes growing up ran to Top 40 and later to grunge rock. He likes bands like Pearl Jam, U2 and Coldplay.
“Most of the music I grew up listening to was not Christian music although I definitely had a lot of that at home too,” he said.
Martel says he actually learned to sing by imitating some of his favourites and “trying to see how they used their throat, trying to copy that.” He loved the “passion” of rock.
“Rock’ n’ roll is the music where you can get away with pretty much saying everything and it’s OK,” he said. “You can say truths in really interesting and good ways and really express yourself through it.”
While he’d heard such Queen staples as “We Are The Champions” at Montreal Expos games growing up, he didn’t really take too much notice of the band until he heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the 1992 comedy film “Wayne’s World.”