By Elizabeth Keenan
If you were a girl growing up in the 1980s, Jem and the Holograms was probably as big a part of your Saturday morning as Transformers and G.I. Joe were for your brother. Every week, pink-haired Jem, the alter-ego of music heiress Jerrica Benton, battled the evil Eric Raymond and his musical protégées, The Misfits, for control of Starlight Records.
With the help of super-computer/synthesizer/hologram projector Synergy, Jem and the Holograms (Kimber, Aja, and Shana) always did what was right in the face of Eric’s evil and The Misfits’ mischief. Along the way, Jem/Jerrica helped raise a house full of foster girls, who were in constant financial and mortal danger, and managed a confusing love triangle involving her alter-egos and boyfriend Rico.
Samantha Newark, the speaking voice of Jem/Jerrica Benton, tells MTV Geek what it was like to be part of the legendary, outrageous cartoon.
MTV Geek: So, just to get this out of the way, how many times have you been asked if voicing Jem was truly, truly, truly outrageous?
Samantha Newark: If I had a dollar for every time I get asked that! But you know, I never get tired of it. Jem has been so wonderful to me, and such a wonderful thing in my life. I love it. I’m not tired of it, at all.
Geek: How did you end up as the voice of Jem and Jerrica?
Newark: I was the actor that did Jem and Jerrica’s voice, their speaking voice. I get asked about that a lot, because the casting was so clever. It was meant to be that nobody really knew it was two different people. So all the music and musicians and songwriters, the music world was actually in New York. That was in place before I auditioned for Jem’s speaking voice. I remember when I first auditioned for it, I was really excited that Jem was a singer because I’m a singer. But how wonderful that both Britta [Phillips] and I got to do what we love for a living. We’re both really excited that we got to do that.
Geek: What were some your favorite episodes from the series?
Newark: I love the episode “Out of the Past” that delves into Jem’s mom, and how Synergy came about, and the lost tapes. That’s one of my favorite episodes.
And there’s just so many funny ones. One of them, a skiing episode, Patricia, the voice of Pizzazz — I was laughing out loud, she was so funny. She’s such a great voice actress.
Geek: What do you think is Jem’s lasting influence?
Newark: I think any little creative kid, something of Jem has lived on through them. It’s got such a timeless quality about it because it was so about teaching kids to do the right thing. I did all these public service announcements, like “Doing the right thing makes you a superstar!”. It was about teaching kids to take the high road and do the right thing and care about each other. I’ve had fans say to me that it helped teach them to be a person along with their families.
Geek: Are you surprised at the attention the show still gets?
Newark: It’s surreal. It’s completely weird. There was actually, last week, I had a fan on Facebook who wrote, “Oh my gosh, I was watching Transformers and I saw you.” Because I guest starred on Transformers. The episode was on right before Jem. It was like I was in a time warp. It was so weird. Like, it’s all happening again. It’s so great.
Geek: What is it about these cartoons that people seem to hold onto after all these years?
Newark: It’s the strangest thing. Why this cartoon? There were lots and lots of amazing cartoons but I think it was something magical that happens. For lack of a better word, it was the synergy of all the amazing creative minds that came together. They had free reign to just be the talents they were and bring to the table what they were inspired to bring to the table.
Geek: What are some of your memories of recording it at the time?
Newark: I’d been performing since I was a little kid. I’d done theater, and I’d done all kinds of things. But the voiceover world was really new. I pretty much understood being behind the microphone. That made sense to me. But it was very intimidating. I was the youngest member of the cast, and I had nothing in common with anybody because I was a kid. I was working with the best voiceover talent in the industry. To be in that environment and work with such an amazing director—it was intimidating, but at the same time I just lapped it up. I felt like I learned stuff every day.
Geek: Since you’re a voice actor, do people ever recognize your voice?
Newark: Maybe that happened back in the day. But, honestly, no. But now when people hear me, when I’m talking on my YouTube page, people often write, “Oh, my gosh, when I close my eyes I hear Jerrica,” or “I hear Jem, I don’t believe it.” But they’re people already acclimated to the show. Out in the world, what I do get is, “You have such a lovely speaking voice.”
Geek: After all these years, how does Jem enter into your everyday life?
Newark: It is so in the forefront in my world because I’m in touch with the fans and I’ve got quite the connection with them on Facebook. Every day, they are corresponding, and they’re loving my music and supporting my music. They come to conventions to get their merchandise signed. It has become something that’s a huge part of my world. I love it. What’s not to love? Jem fans are everything good. And we need a lot of that in the world.
Geek: How would you compare your music today to that of Jem and the Holograms?
Newark: I’ve always loved the synth pop electronica kind of vibe, and when I hear Jem’s music, that ’80s sound is very prevalent even now with artists like La Roux and different people like that. I’m definitely influenced by it. I wouldn’t say my music is ’80s in any way, but there are definitely elements of it. I live in Nashville, but I’m definitely not a country artist. I love country music, but it’s never been anything I’ve wanted to do. It’s straight-ahead pop music.
On October 11, Jem and the Hologram fans have a chance to relive all the glory of ’80s cartoon rock-stardom with Shout! Factory’s DVD release of the series. Samantha Newark’s music can be found at www.samanthanewark.com.
Check out the official trailer for the DVD release of the complete Jem and the Holograms below!