Spectra’s Ralph Hamelmann.
All hail Spectra! From the solid bedrock of Queer Idol rises a new competition performance series. Which is to say that Ralph Hamelmann, the man who created and ran Queer Idol for four years, has decided to rebrand.
“I wanted to get away from the whole ‘Idol’ thing because we also do workshops and we’re more of a community event,” he tells me. “Also, I wanted to get funding, but a lot of agencies turn their noses up.”
“At the word ‘Queer?’” I ask.
“No, at the word ‘Idol,’” he says. “But ‘queer’ is another word corporations are uncomfortable with. In fact, a lot of people in our own community haven’t embraced it, either. The name ‘Queer Idol’ was a beautiful way to start the project because it said to people right away what it was — a competition for queers. But now the name is hurting us, preventing us from getting funding. Our new name, Spectra, is the plural of ‘spectrum,’ which is a rainbow, so I’m still trying to get across the idea of diversity but in a more subtle way.”
Embraced as a word or not, Queer Idol was immensely popular as an event, at one point attracting up to 60 contestants. Incorporated as a non-profit, Spectra should prove to be even more popular, as it is a multidisciplinary event, offering prizes not just for singing but also for dancing; musicianship; comedy; drag (king and queen); carnival performances, such as juggling, miming and burlesque; and even cultural disciplines, “like a First Nations rain dance, belly-dancing, Chinese acrobatics, traditional Newfoundland music, even opera, just anything not in the mainstream,” Ralph gushes.
Ralph, 44, hails from St John’s, where “half the province is funny.” He grew up with a psychic mother. “As a child I would sneak into her room to play with her tarot cards. She knew. She was psychic.” So he decided to follow Mom’s lead and holds a Psychic Brunch every Sunday at the Flying Beaver Pubaret. “I thought it would be interesting to offer a social component. You and a gaggle of friends can go to brunch and then have a psychic reading. Somehow it’s more acceptable to be openly queer than it is to be openly spiritual.”
Ralph works as lead instructor of the editorial program at George Brown College, and years ago he published a cartoon strip in Xtra called For Warped Minds Only. He also worked at the National Ballet School for nine years as creative services coordinator. What a busy dude. All things considered, I have to wonder if Ralph is in the early stages of founding a talent school.
“No, what I’m really trying to establish is a community. When performers get together, they connect on this deeper level.” Ralph is all about encouraging talent. He loves to help contestants choose the right song (“people choose songs they love instead of songs that love them”) and to teach them how to behave (“gay men worship divas, and sometimes diva behaviour rubs off on them, but if you want people to work with you, you have to be easy to get along with”), and he says the ultimate goal is to be able to offer career opportunities, like recording contracts.
“Usually when I sing, I put on a Muppet voice,” he tells me. “But I’ve played classical guitar for 34 years, so I have a good ear for music.” He abstains from judging or voting in his competitions, choosing to function solely as coordinator. Then Ralph springs a surprise on me. “Would you consider being on the board of directors for Spectra?” he asks. Flattered, I say yes. “Would you consider being chair?” Boy, Ralph is really laying it on thick. Yes, of course I’ll be chair.
Wow. I have no idea was a chair does, but I hope singing isn’t a part of it, or I’ll be voted out right away.