"Jem And The Holograms" is one of the most popular cartoons of the 80s. It's still talked about to this day, and one of the reasons is my latest interview subject, Ms. Samantha Newark.
Ms. Newark provided the speaking voice of Jem, but that isn't the only thing she's done. She's also one of the most popular voice actresses for video games, providing voices for titles as diverse as "Twisted Metal: Black" and "Britney's Dance Beat".
I contacted her online recently, and asked if she would be interested in doing an interview with me. She accepted the request, so:
It's The (Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous) RetroJunk interview with Samantha Newark!
Caps: When were you born?
Samantha: Long ago in a land far far away, Wimbledon, England to be exact, during tennis week and I was delivered by nuns.
Caps: What were your Pop-Culture Likes growing up?
Samantha: Wow, its hard to think of them all, there are so many and its complex as I grew up on three different continents. I was Born and raised in England, then we moved to Africa and then eventually the US.
As a child In England I loved The Wombles, Paddington Bear, Rupert the Bear, Crystal Tipps And Alistair, anything Beatrix Potter and Dr Who. When we were in Africa, I dont remember watching much TV at all, but I started my music career while I was there and made my first record and toured when I was 8. I do remember a band called â€œIpi tombiâ€ and a young singer, Lena Zavaroni, that toured out there. I played their records over and over. When we moved to America I was like every other kid performer I was totally and completely obsessed with Annie. Later in my teens it was all about The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, St Elmos Fire, anything John Hughes, I remember seeing Madonna and The Eurythmics in concert when I was pretty young and that was pivotal for me.
Caps: What were your school days like?
Samantha: I loved school but it was trying because I went to about 9 different schools in my scholastic history and was even home schooled for a while when I was touring in Africa. School for me was pretty much about being the New Girl and trying to fit in. I was always starting over in a new city with trying to make new friends and It was tough sometimes but I would quickly get involved in whatever music programs were available and that helped me to feel connected. I do have some fond memories of getting to miss school for Annie rehearsals, when I landed the role of Annie in Washington DC when I was 10 - I was even asked to go to london to play Annie but I ended up growing too tall before rehearsals started.
Caps: What jobs did you hold before entering the entertainment
Samantha: As far as just a regular job, my first job was at 16. I worked at a bakery near my house in Burbank, CA. and I remember that I had to be there at 6 am to go and hand glaze bear claws which involved me sticking my hands in a huge vat of icing and dripping the goop creatively all over these things. I worked in the mall doing retail early on too.
Caps: What was the moment that inspired you to become an entertainer?
Samantha: I do remember that I got the role of Father Christmas in the school play in England when I was about 4 and Im sure that it ignited something in me about wanting to perform. But as far as the truest moment when it all profoundly clicked that this was to be my path, I was a little kid, we had moved to Africa at this point and my parents took me to see a concert, it was Lena Zavaroni. I saw her perform brilliantly with her backup dancers and her costume changes and her fabulous full band and I had a complete epiphany, I just knew with all of my being that I wanted to do exactly what she was doing up there. I got to go back stage and meet her and she signed my record for me and I proceeded to drive my parents bonkers by listening to her record over and over until I memorized every song. I started to develop as a singer over the next 6 months and it just took off from there.
Caps: Did you audition for any notable movies or T.V. shows?
Samantha: I auditioned for tons of stuff before I booked Jem...Shows like The Facts Of Life, Family Ties, lots of After School specials. I actually have a ton of my sides (audition scripts) from things that I read for back then.
(Samantha back in the 80s)
Caps: What drew you to Jem ?
Samantha: I was so excited to audition for Jem not only because It was an opportunity to break into the voice-over world but the character was a singer, I felt it was such a great fit for me.
I didn't know at the time that all the music side of the show had already been cast and was going to be produced out of state. I was made aware that a ton of seasoned voice-over people auditioned for the role of JEM and I think I booked it because we were so similar in essence. I really truly was a good kid a nice girl - I was that Pollyanna archetype in real life and I think that just read as real to the producers and casting people.
Caps: What was your favorite episode(s)?
Samantha: I really liked the episode where I got to play Jerrica as a little girl. I don't remember the name of the episode, but it all revolved around a search for Jem's mother's lost music recordings, and Jerrica's mother was in the episode. A "Jem" fan owns a cel of Jerrica's mother on stage with a guitar, and it looks like me at so many of my acoustic gigs along the way. I saw it at Jemcon and it's really cool.
Caps: I think that "Jem And The Holograms" was animated well and had great writing, but many people have criticized this show and others from the Sunbow/Claster collective (like "G.I Joe" and "Transformers") as poorly animated half-hour commercials. How do you address these criticisms?
Samantha: Someone's always going to have a negative spin on things and fair enough. All I know is here I am all these years later answering questions about my time on the show and talking & meeting people all the time that are still huge fans of "Jem And The Holograms". It kind of cancels the other stuff out.
Caps: Is there anything you wish "Jem And The Holograms" could've tackled?
Samantha: I think they did pretty well covering a lot of different issues, but life was different back then. Kids are facing things now that we didn't even consider growing up. I never in a million years even had a thought of a kid bringing a gun to school, but those are the kinds of dark things kids are facing now. I don't watch cartoons
now, so I wonder how they are speaking to the kids of today. I liked the public service announcements we did where Jem encouraged kids to do the right thing. I would hope they are doing something like that on TV for little ones.
Caps: Have any famous people been fans of Jem?
Samantha: Yes, I keep hearing all kinds of fun celebrity blurbs about Jem. Wally Burr, our director, said that Kirsten Dunst came into his studio once to do some work and she saw his Jem And The Holograms poster on his wall, and flipped out telling him what a huge fan she was of Jem growing up. Gwen Stefani was on "Ellen", and was asked what her inspiration was for starting a solo career, and she said it was Jem And The Holograms. Paris Hilton and Perez Hilton are big fans, and I also was told that when Destiny's Child was together, they did a show in Toronto, Canada and sang the Jem theme song in their set. I imagine the list goes on and on.
(Samantha performing at Connooga in 2009)
Caps: You're a good singer, so why didn't you do Jem's singing?
Samantha: I get asked that question a lot - They did a really good job of casting us. So many people just assume I did both. The music was all produced and recorded in New York and Atlanta, and the voice actors were all cast and recorded in California. All of us that sang in the cast didn't get a shot at the singing voices for that reason.
We didn't have MP3s that we could just shoot across the country. It was all analog 2 inch tape. This was before the Internet, to give you an idea. Today it would have been easy to send the tracks to L.A and record the vocals and shoot them back to production. It was just a different time back then. I remember that I was really disappointed about it as it would have been such a cool opportunity to share my musical talent, too. I had already been singing professionally since age 7. Britta Phillips rocked it and sounds amazing, so we both got to do what we love on the show.
(Samantha performing in concert)
Caps: "Jem" has been made fun on shows like "Family Guy" and
"Robot Chicken". Do you feel offended by the mockeries on these programs?
Samantha: The "Robot Chicken" episode with Jem as a has- been fallen star literally falling out of the bus with boobs down to her knees, offending children at a birthday party ...I haven't laughed that hard in a long time!!! It was bloody brilliant, just so clever and I was really bummed that they pulled it off YouTube as I was sending it to everyone I knew. There is video also of these really tall drag queens on a float at Toronto Gay Pride a couple of years ago doing songs from the show and even piping in my Jerrica dialogue. It's awesome and I will never get tired of enjoying people's connection to the show and seeing them express it in colorful ways.
Caps: Do you think that a show like "Jem" could be done today?
Samantha: Yes, I do. Jems message was one of sweetness and integrity, and I think people are so hungry for that these days. They want their kids to be exposed to those values as they are exposed to so much madness. I hear from fans all the time that they are now introducing Jem to their little kids via YouTube and the DVDs. I think Jem would be incredibly relevant still, and the fact that the show even now is maintaining such a huge following just illustrates to me that it would do very well.
Caps: What popular songs released during "Jem"'s run do you think would've been good songs for the show?
Samantha: It's hard to remember what the popular songs were back then. I would love, love to be a part of the music side of Jem if they ever brought the show back :-)
Caps: On a similar tack to question 14, some people have said that "Hannah Montana" could be seen as a rip-off of "Jem". Do you feel that's true?
Samantha: No offense to Hannah Montana, it's a super show for kids, but it is definitely a rip-off of Jem, and if Jem came back, the kids of today, not knowing Jem would say that Jem is a rip-off of Hannah Montana. The writers of that show must have grown up with Jem, and thought it time to bring back the concept, and it's done really well.
Caps: In 1987, you and Cathianne Blore (who voiced Kimber) each did a grown-up movie. You starred in the slasher "Summer Camp Nightmare" while Blore took a role in the action-dramedy "Fatal Beauty". Were the both of you
looking to do something different from your TV work, or did you just view it as a different gig?
Samantha: My agent at the time had me auditioning for tons of stuff, TV shows, films and commercials. I really had a great time working on that movie. Not the best movie, but everyone should have a B horror movie on the resume.
Caps: You've done quite a lot of video game voice-overs in recent years. Would you ever want to get involved with something like the "Grand Theft Auto" series?
Samantha: I love doing the game stuff. It's really fun work, but I would not consider the "Grand Theft Auto" series. I feel it's so over-the-top scary violent in a sick way, and I have a real issue with them marketing that to kids, let alone adults.
Caps: I've asked you what you liked pop-culturally growing up...What do you like pop-culturally now?
Samantha: Too much cool music to even mention. I do list it on my MySpace page if people want to have a look at the artists that are relevant and inspiring to me...
my guilty pleasure right now is America's Next Top Model, and I love anything paranormal on TV.
(Samantha performing once more)
Caps: "Jem And The Holograms" fan-fiction is being made to this day...What are your views on fan-fiction?
Samantha: I love that fans care about the show enough to want to put their own creative spin on it. I think it's awesome! I have a photo album on my MySpace page dedicated to all the Jem fan art that has been created and put up online. Very cool stuff.
Caps: If you were asked to participate on a Celebreality show, would you accept the invitation?
Samantha: It would all depend, really, on if it was gratuities nonsense, or if it were actually good stuff that I would be proud of working on.
Caps: How do you feel the entertainment industry has changed from when you entered it to now in 2009?
Samantha: When I was starting out as a child performer, and then into my early teens, the industry did not know what to do with me. They kept saying wait until she is 18 or 21, and then we can market her. These days, you're barely relevant unless you are 15 and under. As far as the pop record market, then with pretty much the collapse of the old record label world and getting nurtured and developed by a record company, that has just changed monumentally. I love that the Internet is giving all kinds of indie artists a shot at creating their own fan base, and also it's become very easy to do a creative project on your own computer pretty cheaply. Things are definitely crazy weird in the music business, but change is always a good thing, or at least good stuff always manages to come out of big change. I love that I can put my record up online as a digital download and market it to my fan base via all the free marketing tools like MySpace and Facebook, and I can make my little videos on my Mac and send them out all over the world. It's pretty amazing and empowering to be able to do that myself and reach people in places that would have been impossible before. I think it's a really cool time to be doing things independently.
(The cover of Samantha Newark's self-titled album)
Caps: What advice do you have for those who want to break into the entertainment industry?
Samantha: I would say that it has to be your absolute passion as it's one of the toughest industries there is. It's been a trip to see the "American Idol" contestants that think they have talent for music, and they really can't sing a note. I think we are in a culture that celebrates fame and not so much artistry. You can get famous being a complete train wreck on a reality show. I would try and just get real honest, and take the temperature of your talent by putting yourself out there and getting feedback from people other than your family and friends. If you are really talented and people are not saying Don't quit your day job, then don't ever quit doing what you love. Be tenacious, learn as much as you can about your craft and the business, always be teachable and open to grow, don't burn bridges, take risks, take care of your fans and don't ever give up on your dreams.
Caps: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge you have now, would you do anything differently?
Samantha: I would have bought property in Los Angeles and invested my money from the show. I was young and stupid and didn't save anything.
Caps: I wrote an article last year called "Jem And The Holograms-The Film".
Here's the link to it: http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/3767/.
Since you would know best, what do you think of my ideas for the cast and
Samantha: I love Natasha Bedingfield. Ive never thought of her for Jem/Jerrica, but what a great choice. Maybe I could coach her on her American accent since she's a Brit like me :-)
I think all your choices are inspired and very cool - I love the idea of giving some unknowns a shot, too.
I would like to thank Ms. Newark for taking time to do this interview with me. It was truly an honor. For more on Ms. Newark, visit the following sites:
Thanks for reading this interview. Now there's only one thing left to say:
Show's over, Synergy.