Meet the Air-ess: Canada's first female air guitar champion competes for a world title

On Wednesday, the Air Guitar World Championships open in Oulu, Finland. Canada's reigning champion, Genevieve "The Phoenix" LeBlanc and former champion Tim “Glen Air Glen Rocks” Evans explain what it takes to out-rock the competition.
Earlier this summer Genevieve "The Phoenix" LeBlanc claimed the 2017 Canadian air guitar crown. She'll take on the world in Oulu, Finland August 23 to 25. (Andre Gagne)

All hail her Airness!

It's been quite a summer for Ottawa's Genevieve LeBlanc. The air guitar prodigy took top spot in the Toronto regionals in May, then followed with a national championship last month.

On Monday, she will pack up her costume, air guitar and onstage intensity and set off for the world championship in Oulu, Finland.

LeBlanc is proud to be the first woman to represent Canada at the International jamfest. But the news isn't all good.

"I just found out that I can't use the pyrotechnics that I'm known for here in Canada," she says. "I'm going to have to substitute with something a little different. Maybe a glitter cannon."

Genevieve "The Phoenix" LeBlanc raises her trophy after winning the Canadian air guitar title last month in Toronto. (Culture Snap Photography)

It's more than pretend powerchords

Props like glitter cannons and fire are just the tip of the iceberg. Air guitar is about way more than pretending to strum and thrash; it's an all-out performance piece.

Competitors get one minute on stage to channel their character and song. And while it's important to create a believable guitar playing facsimile, energy is a secret to success.

"You want to have this incredible energy that maybe your regular guitarist can't have because they have to focus on actually playing this instrument," she says.

Another secret is to create a character that the crowd loves to love.

"The Phoenix is this wild and crazy and fiery character who just throws herself around on stage with reckless abandon and just completely gives herself over to the music," LeBlanc says.

Genevieve LeBlanc talks about transforming into her 2017 air guitar character, The Phoenix. 0:33

Former champion and current Air Guitar Canada organizer Tim "Glen Airy Glen Rocks" Evans has a personal connection to his 2007 breakthrough character.

"My influences were always business and theatre," he says.

Tim "Glen Airy Glen Rocks" Evans won the first official Canadian title in 2007. He is now the organizer of Air Guitar Canada. (John Holm)
He named his character after Glengarry Glen Ross, the David Mamet play about struggling real estate salesmen.

"I took on the role of the Alec Baldwin character in my air guitar persona and I was the businessman of rock and roll."

Pretending to hit the right notes

Evans was first official Canadian champion to air it out in Finland. He's got a Glengarry lead for for anyone taking the stage at any level of air guitar competition.  

"When picking an air guitar song you have to think what gets you going but there's another piece of it which is what makes for good theatrics," Evans says.

For Evans' 2007 performance, that was "Love Removal Machine" by The Cult. For LeBlanc, it's "Bang Bang" from Green's Day's Revolution Radio.

"The themes really tie into everything that I'm trying to bring in my performance ... this idea of post apocalyptic war and aggression," Leblanc says.

If The Phoenix is wild and crazy and fiery, she is also terrifying.

LeBlanc throws herself around the stage, contorting her body in ways that look both unnatural and kind of gross. It's effective but not without a toll.

The Phoenix is this wild and crazy and fiery character who just throws herself around on stage with reckless abandon.- Genevieve LeBlanc

LeBlanc has a connective tissue disorder so she can do things with her body that most people can't.

"It causes some pain and some discomfort and difficulty in my day to day life but I like that it lets me do this one wild thing up onstage," LeBlanc says.


Make air, not war

If Angus Young is air guitar's spirit animal, then Mother Theresa is its chakra.

Evans says the philosophy is world peace because if you're holding an air guitar you can't be holding a gun.

"When the guys in Finland started it 20 years ago, it was an act of a passive protest. They were trying to think of ways to spread the ideology of love and peace and joy and they thought let's do it through air guitar."

Air Guitar Canada's official slogan, "Rocking out for goodness sake," is a play on words. For Evans, it means maintaining an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusiveness as well as doubling as a charity.

Participants pose after the 2017 Canadian air guitar finals last month in Toronto. (Culture Snap Photography)

Right To Play Canada is the official beneficiary but this year help also went to a few local charities including Creative Kids in Saskatoon and a suicide prevention hotline in Red Deer, Alta.

In total, Air Guitar Canada raised $6,000 for all charities this year and nearly $15,000 has been donated over the past 4 years.

"Show Show" is the 2017 Japanese Air Guitar Champion. He is a 15 year old high school student who has been competing since he was 11. ( Japan Air Guitar Association)


'Ilmakitara' is air guitar in Finnish

Word on the street is that Genvieve LeBlanc could win it all this year. She says hearing her name called would be music to her ears, but she's more focused on having a good time.

"There's this very competitive streak that is deep down in my core that I can't quite get to shut up. I do really want to win it," she says, pointing out that a Canadian has never won the title.

"As badly as I do want to take that title home, I'm not investing myself in that outcome too much, because I just want to have a good time and enjoy this victory and this experience that I get to have because of Canada."

She's also excited to expand her air guitar family.

"I'm really excited to face off against "Mom Jeans Jeanie" [Nicole Sevcik] from United States — and Show Show, who is 15 years old.  He's the champion from Japan and he's been competing since he was 11 years old," she says.

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