When Marc Martel started a rock band with friends from Bible college in the desolate plains of Saskatchewan, Canada, he wasn’t looking for a record deal. But he got one.
Martel took his degree in worship ministry and headed to Nashville, where his band Downhere enjoyed moderate success. Even so, he could not escape a comparison he heard again and again.
Martel was unfamiliar with Queen’s music and knew nothing about Freddie Mercury.
“I eventually started looking into their music because I was like, Hey, this guy is making me sound really unoriginal. I better find out who he is,” Martel says. “I went down the vortex of Queen’s
And it isn’t just his voice. Martel has a way of performing that is stunningly similar to the late Mercury's style. “I always thought it was kind of a cool parlor trick — something to whip out at karaoke every now and then,” Martel says.
It turned out to be one hell of a trick, and Martel will take it to the Adrienne Arsht Center Sunday, December 16, with his tribute band, the Ultimate Queen Celebration.
The group will perform classic Queen hits such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love,” and “We Will Rock You,” as well as non-Queen songs.
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But this show is far from karaoke. Martel is the real thing. In fact, in 2011, he was handpicked by Queen founding members Brian May and Roger Taylor to sing for the Taylor-produced Queen incarnation, the Queen Extravaganza.
Martel, fearing the time commitment, almost didn’t try out. “I ended up auditioning because my wife said I was born for this,” he says, crediting the woman to whom he had been married less than a year.
The auditions were a three-part process beginning with applicants posting a video on YouTube and asking the public to vote. As luck would have it, Martel’s video went viral, garnering about 1.2 million views in a matter of days.
“It was pretty crazy and kind of a media circus there for two months,” Martel says. “It was really strange for me because, all of a sudden, I’m like this strange celebrity person because I did some karaoke on YouTube.”
Martel was invited on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and eventually performed live for May and Taylor at the Foo Fighters' studio in Los Angeles. Fortune was again on Martel’s side, and he was selected as one of four singers for the band.
He toured with the Queen Extravaganza for several years and then began his own Ultimate Queen Celebration tribute band in 2016.
“Some Queen tributes dress up and pretend like they are John, Brian, Freddie, and Roger,” he says. “We don’t do that. We are all about the music.”
The ability to retain creative control has allowed Martel to stretch his wings and try new things with his current band, where success, once again, seems to have come easily.
“I haven’t really had to push for it because people love to hear Queen’s music the way they know it from the records, and that’s what we strive to do to the best of our abilities,” he says.
His timing could not be better. The success of the recent biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, for which Martel lent his voice to some songs, has propelled its namesake back to the Billboard Top 100 for the third time in more than 40 years.
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Taylor and May announced last week that Queen is set to tour in 2019 with Adam Lambert (of whom Martel is a big fan) on vocals.
In addition to embarking on his current tour, Martel recently released two new albums. And with a boatload of talent and a dash of luck, there is no telling what else the future holds for him. Touring with Queen? Maybe.
“If they were to ask me — I’m not a moron — I would definitely consider it,” he says.
The Ultimate Queen Celebration. 7:20 p.m. Sunday, December 16, at the Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $39 to $79.