On Tuesday, September 23, Marc Martel (pictured far right), one of two lead singers for Canadian Christian band Downhere, uploaded an audition video on QueenExtravaganza.com, a contest launched by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, to build a tribute band. The winner of the contest will tour with the band, Queen Extravaganza, in honor of Queen's 40th anniversary. Due to the huge popularity of the video it came to the attention of The Ellen Show, who invited Martel to be interviewed and perform live on the show.
Martel’s performance of “Somebody to Love” has gone viral, with 3.3 million hits on YouTube and growing. The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly and Beliefnet.com, among other media outlets, jumped on the buzz wagon, asking the question, “Could this be the next Freddie Mercury?”
Click here to watch the audition video. YouTube hits continue to climb, with more than 15,000 comments to date:
“Queen will rise from the ashes on the wings of Marc Martel!”
“I used to believe that no one should ever try to cover Queen or Freddie. You proved me wrong. Thank you.”
“The closest I’ve heard to the real thing.”
“Any chance this is Freddie’s son?”
Before the buzz becomes even more deafening, gmc caught up with Martel at home in Nashville, Tenn. to talk about this unexpected frenzy, the opportunity at hand, and how he’s prepping for what could be more than his '15 minutes' of fame.
gmc: Can you confirm for everyone interested that you were not conceived when Queen played Montreal (before you were born)?
Martel: [Laughing] Knowing my parents, yes, absolutely I can. I look a lot like my parents, Barbara and Michel Martel.
gmc: Are you ready and willing to wear spandex for an extended period of time, and how do you feel about the possibility of big hair?
Martel: I’m hoping, if I win this, the vision is to take Queen into the 21st century, even stylistically and fashion wise, not back to the 20th century... And I’d have to say ‘No’ on the bigger hair because I, like many men, have male pattern baldness.
gmc: You do realize that, in the video, your studio is a mess, right?
Martel: Well, yes, my wife is never going to let me live that down. But you know, even before I decided to record the video, I thought ‘I’m not going to play this up, no theatrics, I’m just going to sing the song, and be me as much as possible. I was trying not to psyche myself out of it. So the studio was what it was.
gmc: What was it about Freddie Mercury that made him such an exceptional, iconic entertainer?
Martel: You know, I’ve come to a new appreciation for his performance chops. [Bandmate] Jason and I were talking about it the other day, and he said, ‘If you look a concert, no matter where you press pause, Freddie’s doing a superhero pose.’ There’s just such confidence there, no restraint or inhibition on stage. He was very comfortable with himself no matter what he was doing, which made the music even more real.
gmc: I’ve got to congratulate you on the thoughtful, intelligent way you’ve handled media questions about Christianity and homosexuality, in the wake of the audition coverage hoopla. It speaks to your maturity as much as to your understanding of what Christianity is supposed to look like in this world.
Martel: I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus lately and how he always cut through the politics and went straight to the heart of the issue. As much as some people want to make this about someone’s personal life, for me, it’s about the music. Great music always rises to the top because it’s honest and it reaches people on a heart level.
gmc: Regardless of what happens with the Queen opportunity, most likely the trajectory of your professional life will change. Ultimately, how does your belief system impact the choices you make/will make with your career?
Martel: Ultimately, we all act according to our belief system. I don’t believe in coincidence. We’ve worked hard for 10 years now, and somehow it’s led up to this crazy thing. There’s a strong suggestion that my future is going to look a lot different than the last 11 years have been implying, so I have to trust that I’m ready for this, for whatever’s going to happen. Right now, I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.
gmc: Would being the frontman for Queen be the ultimate career dream for you? If not, what would?
Martel: I hope to be more. I am my own person. I believe I’m called to be a musician. I’ve never felt led to do anything else. I love to write music. I feel I have a gift to write music. I hope to keep doing that for a long time.
We set out as a band to write and perform music that is true and rings true with the hearts of people, with their needs, songs that connect what we need with what we know... to give us a voice to express those things. If I can keep doing that, I’m content with whatever happens. If some other dude comes along who looks more like Freddie Mercury and sings more like Freddie Mercury, I’ll be content. I was content before I submitted that video last Tuesday, and I’ll be content after the whole thing’s done.
gmc: Is anything different now?
Martel: Millions of people know my name now, but really, nothing has changed. I haven’t been contacted by Queen. I’ve got the same amount of money in my bank account.
It’s all very exciting, and the ultimate outworking of something our band has been saying for the last few years. God can use anything for his glory. We think of it only in the context of Christendom, and we often make it sound like a cliché that ‘God works in mysterious ways,’ but it’s true. He really does. He can show his glory in the most unexpected ways.
Downhere recently released its 6th album, On the Altar of Love, and is currently on the Called to Love Tour with Jason Gray and Aaron Shust. Look for the band’s current chart-climbing single, “Let Me Rediscover You,” in gmc’s Uplifting Pop video block, weekday mornings at 8 am et.
Click here to watch the audition video.
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