Jem is Her Name, No One Else Is the Same!

By: Jase Peeples

More than 25 years have passed since Jem and the Holograms first rocked television sets around the world.

The show that followed the adventures of record company owner Jerrica Benton—who is secretly the glamorous rock star Jem thanks to a Hologram-projecting supercomputer named Synergy—quickly became a ratings smash and inspired a generation of gay boys and girls.

The animated series was a like no other before, full of unforgettable music, fabulous fashion, and plenty of action. Jem and her band, The Holograms, juggled an outrageous music career, ran Starlight House—a foster home for girls—and still managed to foil the latest mischievous plot of their rival band The Misfits by the end of each episode.

Though the animated series only ran for three years, Jem’s legions of dedicated fans have kept her memory alive through an ever-growing internet presence and conventions like Jemcon—an annual event dedicated to all things Jem.

Today, Jem’s popularity is on the rise once more. Episodes of the classic series are currently airing on Hasbro’s newly launched TV Channel, The Hub, where Jem and the Holograms are finding a new generation of fans. Also, on October 11, the entire 65-episode series will be released on DVD for the first time in North America thanks to the fine folks at Shout Factory.

We had a chance to chat with Samantha Newark, the speaking voice of Jem, about lasting appeal of the show, her own upcoming album, and why so many gay boys fell in love with the pink-haired pop princess. 

It's been more than 25 years since Jem debuted. Did you ever think people would still be talking about the show all these years later?
No, I didn’t expect this at all. I can’t even believe 25 years have passed. I had no idea when I was doing Jem how far the show reached and how huge it was. I don’t know why I wasn’t in on how big it was and how many households it was going out to. It’s only been in the past few years that it’s really sunk in. And now it’s back on television again, which is so fun.

Now that The Hub is airing the classic episodes again, how does it feel to see Jem back on television?
It’s totally surreal. It actually coincides with my morning. I just sit, have my coffee and watch Jem episodes. It’s really fun.

So you do watch the series.
Yeah, I do. When I can. But now with the advent of these DVDs I can watch them any time I want.

Were you surprised when you learned that Jem was being dusted off and polished up for a new DVD release?
I’m happily surprised, but at the same time I’m not surprised because I’m very much in touch with the Jem fan base and I know how vast it is. I’ve gotten letters from all over the world. There was even a fan who built a web site for me in Russian because he used to watch Jem as a kid. The reach of the show is so amazing and there’s something really special about it. I don’t know if we can put our finger on it, but it really has meant a lot to so many people growing up. I feel lucky to have been a part of it.

How old were you when you were cast as Jem/Jerrica?
I was a teenager and I was the youngest in the cast. Everybody was quite a bit older than me. I was definitely a little fish out of water.

Plus Jem was your first voice-over work, right?
It was. I think I did a public service announcement, just a small radio spot, before I did Jem.

Why do you think you got the part?
I understand that a whole lot of people auditioned for the role but I think because I’ve always been such a good girl I really did embody a lot of the qualities and the essence that they were going for. And my voice matched the singing voice as well. It was just one of those cool things.

Were you intimidated to work with the older actors?
I was. I’d already been in show business singing and performing since I was a little kid so I was already used to auditioning. I’d done a lot of commercials and on-camera stuff, but still you’re thrown into an environment where it’s very professional and a lot is expected of you so being a young kid and having never done an actual voice-over before, it was definitely intimidating. But very fun. What a great way to learn, to work with the best in the business.

Jem was such an original concept when it debuted in the 80s. What was your impression of the show when you read the script for the first time?
I thought it was great and the characters were so fun. I loved the Misfits. I thought they were so cheeky and bad. I loved the tension between all the characters. I thought it was really well written and then when I saw it all animated I couldn’t believe it. To hear my voice coming out of an actual cartoon, that was pretty surreal.

People are surprised to learn that you didn’t sing the songs in Jem. That was Britta Phillips.
Exactly! They cast all the singers and the production side of the music in New York and all of the voice actors were in Los Angeles. So none of us ever met and we worked completely separately. So it was a whole separate thing.

But you did eventually meet Britta, right?
Yes I did. I emailed her back in 2006. We both had a bit of an online presence for our original music and I thought since we were both Jem it was about time we connect. She was very sweet and wrote me back. Then I got to meet her in person at Jemcon in 2010 in New England. It was awesome. It was so fun meeting her and the fans freaked out.

Even though you didn’t perform the songs in Jem, you’re actually a very talented singer with several albums to your credit.
Thank you!

In fact, you have another one on the way.
I do. It’s coming out October 21stof this year. It’s synthpop/electronica and has a lot of dance influence. It’s just a fun record. I wrote everything on it and I’m really proud of that. I just can’t wait to get it out there.

You’ve been the featured vocalist on a few great dance tracks in the past as well. What was it like working on those collaborations?
One of the coolest things was having one of my songs that I’d written covered by a group in Germany called Fragma. It was very strange to hear a group singing something that I’d written as opposed to me singing something I’d written. Then my version with my vocals was remixed and released as well, so that was a double whammy.

I recently discovered that openly gay singer Ari Gold was the singing voice for the Starlight orphan Ba Nee on Jem. Have you ever met him?
No, I haven’t, but I’ve always thought it would be fun to do a dance project together. He’s a very busy bee, but I’m sure our paths will cross at some point since we’re both on the music highway. It’s a small word.

Jem may have been intended for girls, but somewhere along the way the show picked up a massive gay following. Why do you think the show appealed to so many gays?
I think a lot of gay boys were attracted to the music and the fashion and to all of the creative aspects of the show. I have a lot of gay friends and they’re all very creative and I’m sure the show appealed to that sensibility.

A couple of characters in Jem gave off a bit of a queer vibe. I always thought Eric Raymond (the Misfits manager) was a big closet case.
[Laughs] See, I love that! I love that everybody has their own spin on it. It’s a lot like music. You have a certain intention when you’re writing a song. It’s a personal thing, but it’s so interesting to get feedback from people who project their own story onto your music and hear things that make it relatable to them. I think it’s the same thing with Jem and I love that it’s reached so many people in such a beautiful way.

Do you think Jem would appeal to young people today?
The reruns of the original show are doing really well on the Hub. There seem to be a whole lot of new young people who are loving it. It seems to transcend the test of time. It’s a show that teaches great lessons and is a lot of fun to watch. I think it’s got something for everybody.

The love triangle between Jem, Rio, and Jerrica is something that fans have debated since the show first aired. Do you think it was cruel of Jerrica to come on to Rio when she was disguised as Jem or was he a jerk for following along?
I don’t think he was a Jerk. I think he was a sweet guy. He was just caught up in his hormones. He knew something wasn’t quite right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He had loyalty to both Jem and Jerrica and I think he was jut baffled most of the time. As for Jem, she was just trying to keep her secret. I think most of this went over the heads of young kids at the time, but looking back now that was quite a love triangle. But yeah, Jem was a big flirt. There were more than a few scenes where she would tell Rio, “Jerrica told me to show you a good time."

And then she even flirted with the Stingers lead singer Riot later on as Jem.
Yes, she did! But you know, that’s what young girls do. We don’t know what we want, we just want lots of attention.

Jem was a bit of a bad girl in that way.
Yeah. I think you’re right.

Even though Jem was aimed at a young audience, the show tackled lots of serious issues such as drug abuse, runaways, and even the death of loved ones. Do you think Jem would address gay teen bullying if the series were still around today?
I would hope so. It used to be a taboo subject, but now it’s in the forefront. I would hope they would be brave about bullying of any kind. That’s what I love about Jem’s message. She really tries to impart that character is a good thing. She teaches us that being a good person and putting other people before yourself should be valued. I think that’s lacking today and people are very selfish.

What has been the best part about playing Jem/Jerrica?
At the time it was such an awesome job. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for something I loved to do. But today I’d have to say it’s the fans. They’re so loyal and they love the series. Getting to meet fans at conventions and having them share their personal connections with the show has been a real gift.

Tags: TV