Three Canadians will join a Queen tribute band being created to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the British rockers, including a Montrealer who is a remarkable sound-alike for Freddie Mercury.
Montreal-born vocalist Marc Martel, Quebec City bass player François Olivier Doyon and Toronto guitarist Tristan Avakian are among the winners announced Thursday in the Queen Extravaganza contest.
They auditioned via video before flying to Los Angeles earlier this week for a live audition in front of Queen drummer/songwriter Roger Taylor. The winners will tour next year in a Queen tribute band, recreating the Queen arena experience with songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody and We are the Champions.
Montreal-born Martel plans to take a break from singing with Christian rock group downhere to tour with the Queen project. Downhere, formed in Saskatchewan, has been playing out of Nashville, Tenn. for the past 10 years, after landing a record contract.
At a news conference Thursday in Montreal, Martel said he was "excited" at the opportunity and relieved the audition process was over. His only regret is that his brother David, also a contestant, didn't make the cut.
One unexpected effect of the public attention he's received as a Freddie Mercury stand-in is some disapproval from former fans of downhere.
"One or two churches have cancelled their concerts over the Christmas period because of my involvement with Queen Extravaganza, but the support we've gotten from the Christian community has been overwhelming," said Martel.
Martel said he began imitating Mercury’s style in the early 2000s after a fellow band member encouraged him to study the singer.
"I’ve gone to Expos games and hockey games and always knew We are the Champions and We Will Rock You, but I never got into the actual band itself until after [the movie] Wayne’s World," he said in an interview with CBC last week.
Quebec City bassist
Doyon has performed with the band Cavalia and also plays harmonica, double bass and percussion, according to his profile on the Queen Extravaganza site.
During the audition, the competing musicians were put together as if they were a band and asked to play Queen hits. The hardest part came late in the day, when they were asked to play songs they hadn’t practiced, like Tie Your Mother Down, Doyon said.
Avakian had plenty of practice playing the band's hits, as he was a guitarist for the Toronto run of Queen musical We Will Rock You.
"I probably played Bohemian Rhapsody on stage more times than Queen did," said Avakian, now a music producer.
He considers Queen guitarist Brian May one of his idols and said he welcomes the challenge of reinterpreting Queen hits.
"What I do is put my best foot forward and create something that evokes it and expands upon it. There are four unique individuals. It’s so unique – I don’t think there’s any recreating it really."
Taylor will oversee the Queen Extravaganza tour in 2012, with May involved in production and U2 stage designer Mark Fisher on board to shape the look. Taylor worked with Spike Edney, Queen’s keyboard player since the mid-'80s, and Trip Khalaf, Queen’s sound engineer, in picking the musicians.
"As the audition videos began posting, we could see right away that the caliber of talent was very high," Taylor said in a statement.
"But when I got into the studio with the final 25 musicians, I realized that these guys are seriously good players. They went way beyond my expectations. It was an incredibly difficult decision to choose the final line-up. I wish I could've kept them all, but in the end, I'm very happy with this group of exceptional musicians."
The other winners of the Queen contest:
- Jennifer Espinosa, San Antonio, Tx., vocalist.
- Brian Gresh, Tulsa, Okla., guitarist.
- Tyler Warren, Camden, Tenn., drums.