Singer, songwriter and actress Carly Rae Jepsen reflects on the two teachers who encouraged her talent and helped her find her mark at centre stage.
By Richard Ouzounian
Photo: Ian Hylands
Every Cinderella worth her salt has at least one fairy godmother, but the really lucky ones always get two. Just ask Carly Rae Jepsen — the latest talent to take a whirl in those infamous glass slippers on Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
When she was first announced for the title role, scoffers had questioned what the “Call Me Maybe” pop singer was doing in a musical comedy of that calibre. Had they done their homework, they’d have known that once upon a time Jepsen ruled that genre, starring in everything from Annie to The Wiz.
And, that’s where those two fairy godmothers — well, a godfather and godmother — enter Jepsen’s story. Without David Fryer and Beverley Holmes, both teachers at Heritage Park SS in Mission, BC, Jepsen’s career would likely look a lot less enchanting.
“The two of them helped me so much that I honestly don’t know where I’d be today without them,” says Jepsen from her backstage dressing room. “They put my feet on a road and directed me down this unbelievable path.”
Fryer, an acclaimed musician, encountered Jepsen first and still remembers the moment. “She was in Grade 3, at a talent contest. Carly was singing ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ with her father — she had the most incredible stage presence. And her voice? Amazing. So lyrical and beautiful, even back then.”
Three years later, despite her age, Fryer offered Jepsen a golden opportunity to grow as an artist.
“I was in Grade 6 when David invited me to sing with his jazz band as a featured guest. I couldn’t believe it but I gave it a go and it was an amazing experience.”
Fryer laughs when told about Jepsen’s memories of their time together. “She started as a featured guest but soon became our lead vocalist and did almost every concert with us — even the touring.”
The idea of someone so young singing with a big band may seem odd, but Fryer insists that Jepsen fit in perfectly.
“The very first song Carly ever did with us was ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,’ and she knew how to do it instinctively. She had great phrasing, right from the start,” says Fryer.
“I’ve always felt lucky to have teachers who believed in me and did what I could to live up to their expectations.”
Jepsen’s time with Fryer helped this soon-to-be star fine-tune her vocals, “He taught me so much about different kinds of music and about harmonies. He helped me discover my voice and the higher register that I never knew I had.”
Like a true lead singer, there came a time when Jepsen would have to make a tough decision, take a leap of faith and break away from the band. It was at this point that Beverley Holmes came onto the scene.
Holmes had carved a career out for herself as the person you’d bring into a school if you were looking to launch a theatre program. “I’ve always had a passion for acting, not to mention bossing people about — so I guess that becoming a director worked out pretty well for me,” the retired drama teacher jokes.
Together, Holmes and Fryer became the musical theatre dream team at Heritage Park SS, but when they set out to produce Annie, they had a problem — no one in their school fit the bill for the lead.
Just as Fryer noticed the singer at a talent show years before, Holmes first spotted her on stage. “She was about 10 and I remember thinking what a controlled and powerful voice she had,” says Holmes.
“Then I saw her in a production of A Christmas Carol. Carly was the ghost of Christmas future, she had no lines but she was the most memorable person in the play. That was the thing about Carly — once you saw her, you never forgot her.”
So when they were stuck for an Annie, they knew who to call on for the role.
“She was really the only student we could imagine playing that part,” admits Fryer, while Holmes recalls that her diminutive power was exactly what they needed for the musical classic.
Their instincts proved to be right. She was dynamite on stage, so much so that over the next two years they mounted two more shows — The Wiz and Grease — with Jepsen as the star of each.
“There came a point when I knew that I couldn’t keep casting Carly in the lead every year, so when she didn’t seem right to play Sandy in Grease, I gave the role to another girl. But as luck would have it, the other student didn’t work out and so once again I turned to Carly — and, of course, she was magnificent.”
Jepsen looks back on her high school theatre experience fondly and says she learned a great deal from Holmes. “I loved Bev’s approach to directing. She would check in with the cast every day to ask how we were doing and what we were feeling. She wanted us to tap into our emotions and use them during the show. It was such a special thing.”
Inspired by these experiences (and with a nudge from Holmes) Jepsen enrolled in the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria, but found herself at a bit of a dead end once she completed her studies.
“I didn’t know what to do. I loved to perform but it just wasn’t happening for me, so I thought I’d be a teacher like my parents,” recalls Jepsen.
It was right around this time that her former teacher connected with Jepsen again to offer some guidance.
“I’ve always been a fan of taking chances,” says Holmes, “so when I heard Canadian Idol was having auditions, I knew in my gut that this was what she had to do.”
Jepsen laughs. “I was having a nice bath when Bev called, she told me to get out of the tub because she was coming over and driving me down to Vancouver for the Canadian Idol auditions. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to go but Bev said, ‘You’re going to this audition,’ and that was that.”
She was cast in the fifth season and although she finished as the second runner-up, Jepsen parlayed her way into a national tour which put her in the spotlight, got her noticed and set her firmly on her path to stardom.
“When I see her today, I’m so proud,” says Holmes, “but I can’t help myself, I always have more notes to give her, like, ‘Use the other side of the stage. Don’t be afraid to take command.’ But she’s the real thing — her talent is all hers.”
Fryer speaks gently of his former protégé. “She’s always been very kind, too kind, about what Bev and I have done for her. She certainly is incredible to watch.”
“Everything I am today, I owe to David and Bev. They had the vision,” says Jepsen. “David saw a little girl singing with her dad and then pictured me performing in a big band. Bev noticed a teenager who had no lines in a play but could imagine me as the lead in a musical. I’ve always felt lucky to have teachers who believed in me and did what I could to live up to their expectations.”