By Lis Lewis
Every major city in the country has auditions for a TV talent show. American Idol, America’s Got Talent, The X-Factor and The Voice are just a few of the shows that hold auditions. Even if you’re not in a major city, you’re probably near enough to get there for one of the dates. How do you prepare for an audition and how can you make the best possible showing?
First you need to get some great songs together. Choose songs that suit your voice and personality. If you’re bubbly and fun, pick a song that shows that. Don’t go against your type. Some people want to show how tough they are and then try to be what they’re not. Assess your strengths and play to them. Also try not to pick a song in a style that you are unfamiliar with. You will be auditioning against people who’ve been singing that style all their lives. Don’t pick a song that a lot of other people are going to sing. You can almost hear the judges groan when the 200th person sings “At Last” or the Bruno Mars song “Just The Way You Are”.
Next, put the song in the right key for your voice. Most of these auditions are A Capella, which means you sing without any music. You can put it in any key that works for you. Try singing it in the key with the original singer. If some of the high notes are a little too high, move it down a half or a whole step and try it again. If there are parts that are too low, move it up. You want the song to sit in a part of your voice that has energy, i.e. not too low, but where you can hit all the notes. Remember, when you get nervous your voice goes up a few steps so if the song is too low those bottom notes will be gone.
For those auditions where you can use a background track, make sure the key is right. If it isn’t, you will need to change it – some karaoke sites let you can change the pitch and you can make a CD of the song in the right key. If you can’t change the key and it’s wrong for your voice, change songs.
Perfect Your Performance
There’s a lot more to singing than using your voice. Assuming you’re prepared vocally, you’ve also got to look and act like a pro. Dress for the stage. Avoid mundane or conventional clothing. You don’t want to look like you are going to the office party – you want to look like you’re about to go onstage and knock people’s socks off. You don’t want to look generic – express your personality through your clothing.
Practice your performance, not just your singing. Be expressive with your face, your body and your hands. When you gesture, don’t be literal: don’t point to your eye when you sing, “tears” or the sky when you sing “the moon…” Movements are supposed to reflect feelings not translate the story. Move around and get comfortable in the space around you. Open your eyes. Most of all, mean what you’re singing. Pick a song with a lyric you can connect to. If you’re singing a sad song, don’t smile your way through it.
What The Judges Want
The judges want to be “wowed”. They want to hear a great voice bringing fresh meaning to a song. They want to get goose bumps. If the point of the song is joyous, they want to see you sparkle. If it’s moody they want to feel your pain. It’s hard in that setting, with everyone staring at you and your nerves raging, to focus on the feelings in the song and the great joy that singing gives you but that’s exactly what you have to do.
It’s not unusual for there to be thousands of people at these auditions. Arrive early. Even though this means that you’ll be in line longer, it’s better to be seen in the beginning of the auditions while the judges are still fresh. Dress in layers. If you are going to have to camp out overnight you’ll need to be warm. As the day progresses you’ll want to be able to remove layers. Also bring an iPod or mp3 player with your vocal warm-up on it and the starting chord or note for your song. Bring water and snacks. Avoid salty food, caffeine and dairy. Don’t eat a big meal just before you’re going to sing.
Take a few moments just before you audition to collect yourself and remember what you love about singing. Then go in there and give them all you’ve got.
The reality of these huge cattle calls is that most people are rejected. You can’t take a rejection to heart. You don’t know what they’re actually looking for. They may want only big belters like American Idol seems to prefer. Or they may want delicate ballad singers. You can’t allow their decision to affect your self worth. Keep working on your singing and performing. Make every audition the best you can do. You can also get constructive criticism about what you need to work on by a music professional. If you take one lesson with a reputable voice teacher, they can tell you if you’re singing in tune, if your tone is good and what you might need to work on. That’s a good way to get an objective point of view from someone who hasn’t got an ulterior motive.
I have to point out that several of these shows like to make fun of the contestants even when they are perfectly good singers. Even the audience of these TV shows likes to belittle the singers online or in conversations over the water cooler. It makes them feel superior. Some of the judges have made their reputations by being as mean as possible because it makes good ratings. But that doesn’t mean they’re right. I’m sure you’ve seen excellent singers voted off a show while inferior ones remain. Keep this in mind when you audition. You don’t know the judges’ motives; you can’t guess what they really wanted. They may not have liked your song choice. They may already have chosen someone with a similar style and wanted variety. Finally, remember these TV shows are all ratings driven and the home audience loves conflict. If you are easy going and wouldn’t be a diva on the show, you might not get chosen. Don’t take it personally. You sing because you love to. If they don’t like it, you’ll find people who do.
Ready to take your singing to the next level? Take private voice lessons in Los Angeles or online with Lis Lewis!
Lis Lewis is a voice teacher and performance coach in Los Angeles, CA. She has been training recording artists for over 30 years. Learn more about her private voice lessons. Lis is the author of the books The Singers First Aid Kit and The Pop Singers Warm-Up Kit both published by Hal Leonard. In addition to private coaching, she has worked in collaboration with managers, record labels, producers, bands and songwriters in the recording and rehearsal studio to get the best performances from their artists.