Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous
By Noah Michelson
Nearly 25 years ago, Jem and the Holograms debuted in living rooms across America and instantly captured the hearts and imaginations of countless little girls -- and gay boys. The cartoon revolved around the adventures of record company owner Jerrica Benton and her rock star alter-ego, Jem, who was created by a supercomputer named Synergy that produced incredibly realistic lifelike holograms. When Jem and her band, the Holograms, weren't busy trying to top the charts, they hand their hands full running an orphanage, the Starlight House, and competing with their arch rivals, the Misfits, who were forever trying to muck up, maim, and even murder anything or anyone who stood in the way of success.
The series, a joint collaboration between Hasbro, Marvel Comics, and Sunbow Productions -- the same team responsible for G.I. Joe and Transformers -- was originally produced to promote a line of Barbie-like dolls. Though the show only ran for three years, it has remained a favorite for some children of the '80s, who to this day watch DVDs of the cartoon, attend Jem conventions around the country, and fondly remember all of the campy glamour and glitter, fashion and fame Jem and the Holograms brought to their lives.
Out tracked down the voice of Jem, Samantha Newark, to find out what she's been up to since the show went off the air, why the show was so appealing to gay fans, and whether she thinks Jerrica's boyfriend, Rio, was a raging two-timing creep or a misunderstood, severely manipulated sweetheart.
Out: How did you get cast for the role of Jem/Jerrica Benton?
Samantha Newark: I was with an agency and the woman who was my agent left to start a smaller boutique agency and she invited me to come with her. There weren't that many agents at the time doing voice-over -- it was kind of a niche-y, little group of people that did most of them. My dad always says I 'landed with my bum in butter,' [laughs] which is quite a British expression, because it was like the second voice-over I ever read for and I booked it and I got to work with the best voice-over people in the business. It was just such an awesome start to being part of the voice-over world.
You're British, but you grew up here?
I came to America when I was around 10 and I still talked funny -- I had my little British accent but I got rid of it pretty quickly.
Not only do you not have a British accent, but I was expecting to get on the phone with Jem/Jerrica and you don't sound anything like her. Did you manipulate your natural speaking voice in some way to do the character?
Not really. There was a slight difference between the voice of Jem and the voice of Jerrica. I think probably just because my voice has matured over the years -- I can still talk like that but I think my voice is a little lower now. I was just more animated and jovial and girlish than now.
How old were you when you first started doing the show?
I was in my teens.
What was the set up like when you were recording the voice-overs?
We were really fortunate as a cast that we recorded ensemble, which they don't do very often these days. Back then it was awesome. Let's say we had a session on a Friday, we'd all go in and sit around a huge table and everybody who was in the script for that episode would underline their parts and we'd do a table read together -- a rehearsal -- and we'd be given storyboards. Wally [Burr], the director, would say to us, 'When you're saying this line, you're climbing the mountain,' and we'd make notes in our scripts as to what our bodies would be doing with each line. Then we'd break for lunch and after that we'd go into the studio and we'd share microphones. They set it up so that whoever had the most dialogue would have their own microphone or they'd share with somebody who didn't have as much dialogue so there wouldn't be any issues. As you can imagine, it was really fun. We got in trouble for laughing a lot.
A lot of people don't know this, but you didn't perform the songs. That was Britta Phillips.
Right, that was Britta. When I auditioned for Jem I had already had a career as a singer since I was 7 years old and I thought Oh my gosh, this couldn't be a better fit. This is my job! And at the time they didn't have MP3s or the Internet so all the music and the production side of the music side of the show had already been cast and was already set up in New York. The voice actors were the last to be cast, so I didn't even get a shot at it. And at the time I was bummed and it would have just made sense, but Britta is great and I think she did an awesome job as Jem's singing voice.
The show was aimed at young girls, but it had -- and has -- a huge gay following. Why do you think it appealed to so many gays?
It just appealed to the little kid who had a creative soul and who wanted to have a life that was outside of the box and didn't necessarily want to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, plumber -- some kid that was artistic. So many guys, especially in the gay community, are incredibly artistic -- they want to be the choreographers and the art directors -- and so I think that it spoke to those kids in a really beautiful way. I get lots and lots of fan mail from lots of gay people who say, 'The show rocked! And it helped me get through a really tough childhood.'
I think it had something to do with Jem having a secret identity too. Gay people can always relate to living double life -- the whole idea that there's something inside of you that you're not allowed to share --
Except with a few close people maybe, but not the rest of the world. That's really true. I never thought of it that way.
If you had to pick one of the characters that might have been gay, who would you choose?
I don't know if I can answer that. I'll have to go back and watch some of the episodes. Who do you think?
Synergy always gave off a majorly dykey vibe --
[Laughs.] I love it.
And I just read this really tender fan fiction story where Eric Raymond [the Misfits' manager] and Tech Rat [one of Raymond's henchmen] are up in a tree hiding from the Misfits and they share a sweet little kiss.
[Laughs.] Have you seen the Robot Chicken episode where Jem is standing at a urinal?