Audition Guide

Mastering the art of auditioning can mean the difference between a great paying music gig, or a way cool job at the mall. Many singers who are fabulous entertainers simply don’t audition well. And sometimes, average singers get the gig because they know how to own the moment. In this area, I am going to give you the inside scoop on several different audition situations. Bottom line: you basically have a few seconds to show a panel of complete strangers that you rock. Hard. When I am judging an event, I typically sit through many hours of auditions in a day. Most of them, honestly, all run together after a while. But a few of them stand out. A few are so far above everyone else that it’s a no-brainer, making my choices obvious. How can you be the one that stands out? Here are 3 key elements of which you need to be aware:

Time Limit

Very often (as in pageants), there is a strict time limit enforced. 30sec, 60sec, and 90sec are common. Sometimes the limit is 8-16 measures, rather than given in seconds. You must choose songs that show what you need them to see within the time allotted. Not every song can do that.

Song Requirements & Expectations

Know what the judges are looking for. Research what kind of song does well at this particular event. At Miss Tennessee, the judges (an audience) will respond better to the girl singing about love or hope than they will to a the girl singing some sassy, brassy number. For American Idol, they definitely go for the dramatic singers that have lots of energy and personality. In a karaoke contest, you have to pick a song that gets the audience excited, as their response directly affects your score (original or obscure songs seldom do well here). It’s a game: find out what historically does well, and give it to them.

Your Current Ability

If you cannot sing the bridge in Christina Aguilera’s “I Turn to You”, then do not sing the song. Everyone knows this song, and they’re all waiting for the “money shot” at the end of the bridge. “Making it your own” as a means of DODGING that high F is lame. It’s a major buzz kill. The audience feels cheated. Do something you can do well. You’ll hear me say this a lot: “don’t show off anything that’s not great! WHY do that? You can do so many things well, so there is no need to showcase your weaknesses.” Don’t think of it as “playing it safe;” it’s “playing it ‘prepared’.”


All production companies that I’ve worked with have their requirements posted very clearly online. On their sites you can find exactly what voice types (and even body types) they’re looking for. Cruise ship shows usually have a more “upscale” feel. The girls’ costumes are extravagant and often skimpy and sexy (“fitting the costume” is crucial). You will have your vocal audition, and then you’ll do a dance audition where you will learn a simple routine.

How To Prepare

  • Prepare songs that are recognizable crowd pleasers
  • Have your sheet music in the correct keys
  • Have your cuts clearly marked for the pianist
  • If you use CD accompaniment, have it edited so there is no fiddling with trying to find where you want to start
  • Present yourself at your best. Be in shape and looking stage-ready
  • Take a dance class. You WILL have to learn some choreography
  • ENTERTAIN. The idea is to show the judges that you can easily offer what they need


Since it’s very beginning, I’ve coached scores of hopefuls through the A.I. process. It has evolved into a very efficient machine, even though the actual details change constantly. Your first audition is definitely a cattle call. You have literally seconds to impress. And you must do this while dozens are audition at the same time and while thousands are practicing. A.I. is the perfect example of how music is not an art; it is a business. So you’ve got to bring so much more than a great voice. Now I am going to assume you want to get through on actual skill rather than schtick. So here’s the best advice I can give you.

How To Prepare

  • Get on the A.I. site and read over the song list and time limits (they constantly change)
  • Prepare 30 second cuts of two heart-stopping songs
  • Have about 7-10 additional songs on reserve! They may ask you to sing more
  • Work with a great vocal performance coach
  • Record and listen back to your cuts
  • Video your cuts. This is TV, people. It’s not a talent show; it’s television entertainment. You better look as good as you sound. Some of you need to look significantly better than you sound.


Again, be sure to review the song requirements on the school’s website. I sit through many hours of these auditions at Belmont University every year. Many music schools let nominally talented singers in, as long as they have the money to attend. World-class institutions like Belmont–not so much. Because I judge and train mainly the commercial majors, I will tilt my advice here in that direction.


  • Learn (2) commercial songs that truly show what you’ve got
  • Learn (1) classical song that shows strong technique vocal beauty
  • Prepare an Activities List that shows your involvement in music as well as civic event
  • Prepare a repertoire list of all songs you’ve studied with your vocal coach. NOTE: if you’ve never worked with a voice teacher, thats OK! Just make a list of songs you’ve performed

How To Impress

  • Choose songs that showcase what you do very well. Do not choose something that’s going to make you terrified of not hitting a high note
  • Be original. Unlike the cruise ship and theme park settings, here we want you to show originality
  • Know the difference between a Musical Theater audition and a Commercial Music audition. For the latter, don’t act out the lyrics like you’re in “Wicked.”
  • Present yourself as confident and fun. A bright, secure personality goes further that you know.
  • SHOW YOUR SPARK! I have seen many great singers turned away because there was no spark! No life, no energy, no vibe!


Remember, the idea is to stand out. So in case I didn’t cover your particular area, here’s a checklist that will hold true for any audition setting.

  • Know the Expectations (number of songs, the desired styles, and time limits)
  • Choose ONLY Winning Songs
  • Look Amazing. That’s different from saying “Look Your Best” because your current “best” might not cut it. Get in shape, work on your image, get your hair right, wear the right outfit and LOOK AMAZING. No excuses.
  • Be Confident and Fun. People are drawn to those attributes, and repulsed by “insecure or cocky.” Who would you rather work with?
  • Treat Your Accompanist Well. Always have your music in the correct key and your cuts clearly marked.
  • Be Professional. Have all paperwork neat and ready to go. No “I left my forms with my mom can I go get them”…get it together.
  • Kill It. With a strong a relaxed stance, sing the crap out of your sings. Own that moment. No awkward body twitches, no insecure and vacant eyes. You must kill it.

I’ll leave you with one last reality slap (you know that’s how I roll): If you do not bring it in your auditions by sounding and looking incredible, look behind you–then get out of the way. Because there’s several hundred aspiring artists who are wishing you’d hurry up and finish so that they can bring it. You can do this. Don’t be afraid of being told “no.” In fact, get used to it. All that is is fuel for your rocket, baby.

About James R. Wigginton

JAMES R. WIGGINTON (Jamie) was born into a touring musical family in Western Kentucky -sort of a hillbilly Partridge Family. Hundreds of artists/vocalists all over the world currently call Jamie their vocal coach. Over the past few years, Jamie has completed over 25 international tours, in 11 countries–appearing in concert and presenting Master Classes.


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  2. Alison Pluff says:

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  3. Hey Ali, this is very nice! Thanks so much for sharing with us. Very smooth vocal.

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