andrew kruse-ross | marc martel | april 2018
Having never taken a vocal lesson, Marc Martel learned to sing by imitating the voices he heard on the radio. He recalls sitting by his dual cassette recorder as a kid waiting for his favorite songs to come across the airwaves so that he could record them. Once captured, he'd spend countless hours at the piano trying to work out the melodies on his own and singing along, doing his best to imitate the voices he recorded on magnetic tape.
A fan of Top 40 hits, his favorites were George Michael and Richard Marx, but it would be the voice of another that would endlessly draw comparisons to Martel's natural voice, that of iconic Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
Long before he found himself handpicked by surviving Queen members Roger Taylor or Brian May as the voice to lead their ultimate Queen tribute band, the vocal similarities between Martel and Mercury had been evident. One only need listen to any one of the six full-length albums recorded by Downhere, the Juno Award-winning rock outfit of which Martel was a member for more than a decade to hear the similarities.
“It had started to become a joke in the band where we'd say 'Let's see if I can get no comparisons to Freddie Mercury tonight?' I'd try to sing as differently as I could but to no avail. People always hear him in my voice," says Martel.
In 2011, Martel would find himself at the end of one chapter of his career and the beginning of another — one that would have him embracing his Mercury-esque voice.
Despite favorable reviews from critics and featuring what Martel describes as “the best song" he'd ever written up to that point of his career — the song “Let Me Rediscover You" — Downhere's album “On the Altar of Love" failed to generate long-term traction over the airwaves.
After spending more than a decade together, boasting successful tours of North America, Europe and even Africa, and taking home numerous GMA Awards and four Juno Awards, Downhere were pondering a hiatus.
“We'd always had this gradual growth," recalls Martel. “We were reaching a wider and wider audience every couple of years."
When “Altar" failed to build upon the success of their previous albums — as every new release had since their debut effort — Martel and his bandmates recalled a discussion they'd had years earlier.
“I remember having conversations as a band that we wanted to end well — whenever that happened. We had kind of a distaste for bands that went on too long and just kept holding onto the dream when no one was listening and they were out of creative ideas.
“I asked myself, 'If I write what I consider to be my best song and nobody cares, what are we doing?'"
At the same time that Downhere were wrangling with an uncertain future, the surviving members of Queen were spearheading an international search to find the right musicians to carry on Queen's legacy with the creation of a tribute band.
It may be difficult to imagine, but Martel — despite years of being compared to Mercury — was hesitant to enter the competition. He explains it wasn't fear of failure but fear of success that had him hesitating.
“I felt like this could really change my life and I wasn't sure if I was really ready for that."
At the behest of his wife and friends, Martel entered the competition, casually posting his audition, Queen's “Somebody To Love" on Youtube.
It was an instant hit. Martel's video went viral, garnering millions of views within hours. Soon the phone began to ring.
The Huffington Post was the first to call. An appearance on the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show" soon followed. Martel's audition received more than 30-million cumulative social media views and he was declared the victor of the competition and would front The Queen Extravaganza.
A debut performance on “American Idol" alongside Roger Taylor and Brian May preceded extensive North American, European and Australian tours and introduced the world to the ultimate Queen tribute band.
Today, Martel fronts The Ultimate Queen Celebration, the five-piece includes Extravaganza bandmates, guitarist Tristan Avakian whose tonal likeness to Brian May's Martel calls “uncanny" and keyboardist and musical director Brandon Ethridge.
The group's theatrical concert set features 23 of Queen's most beloved songs and even incorporates a few surprises along the way.
“I get to do some things that you might not expect to hear out a of Queen tribute show," says Martel. “I've taken it upon myself to insert some songs into the show that are not Queen songs, that Queen never performed or Freddie never sang, just to see what that might have sounded like."
Martel recognizes that there's more to performing these songs than meets the eye and says many Queen fans wonder what might have been had the world not been robbed of Mercury's talents so soon. His job involves filling a void left by Mercury's untimely passing and introducing the legacy of Queen to future generations.
“When Freddie passed, I think more than any other artist I can think of, he was so beloved. People just have a very special place for him in their hearts. It's almost as if everyone thinks of Freddie as their little brother. What a tragedy that he had to die so young.
“People want to show their kids this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime person that came along and changed the face of rock 'n' roll and wasn't afraid to be himself in every way possible."
The Ultimate Queen Celebration visits the Meyer Theatre on April 4. Tickets are available online at TicketStarOnline.com or by phone (800) 895-0071.
The show also visits the Capitol Civic Centre in Manitowoc on April 6. Visit CCCshows.org for ticket information or call (920) 683-2184.
For more information on Marc Martel, or to pre-order his new solo album, “My Way, Vo. 1," visit MarcMartelMusic.com.