Auditions. Walking voluntarily into a room full of strangers that are about to judge the very thing you have worked on your entire life… Sounds like a blast, right? They don’t have to be frightening. You don’t have to hear the soundtrack of the “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” in your head when you face the panel of adjudicators. You need to know four things: Be prepared, be on time, be yourself, and be likeable. Really, that’s it? Honest.
1. BE PREPARED.
Nothing will get you more nervous than a lack of preparation. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you have no idea what you’re auditioning for, then it doesn’t matter. In contrast, the easiest way to kill nerves is to be prepared. If you are sure of your material and your eligibility, not even an incompetent accompanist or a Simon Cowell will get you down.
Preparation starts general: Know your craft. Get with a voice coach that legitimately knows what they’re talking about (and has proven it) to hone your talent into something you can depend on. Be able to sing sick. Yes, there’s ways around it!! If you refuse to sing in public unless you’ve had nine hours of sleep, two liters of water, and have warmed up for thirty minutes, the professional performance world is not for you. Yes, that is the condition any good singer wants to have.
But you must know your voice well enough to navigate around less-than-perfect conditions. More specifically: Have your sheet music in a couple keys so that if you wake up with Satan’s phlegm, you can just kick it down a notch and still sound great. Mark your sheet music so that if the accompanist doesn’t speak English, the starts and stops will still be communicated! (I don’t mean this is likely. I mean use bright highlighters and write legibly.) Often, you don’t get to have a conference with the pianist ahead of time. The first page should have the title, the composer, and the show the song is from (or the artist whose version you’re singing). If you hand them “I Will Always Love You,” they won’t know if it’s Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston. If it’s from an obscure Broadway show, but it’s by Jason Robert Brown, the accompanist will likely get the idea of a style, even if they don’t know it.
Be able to sing any of your songs a cappella. I am an accompanist, and freak incidents like runaway fans and power shortages to the keyboard are reality. I’m serious. Don’t be paralyzed by silence. The second part of being prepared is knowing your audience. Everyone knows this for a show, but it’s true for auditions as well. If you’re auditioning for a Christian performing arts company, it’s best to stay away from selections like “Sweet Transvestite” from Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Also, know the show or type of show you’re auditioning for. If it’s a specific role in a show, choose selections that show you in your element that the director can relate to the role. DO NOT sing songs directly from the show UNLESS requested!! Have them prepared in case they would like to hear them. If it’s a production company, or cattle-call like UPTA’s, choose songs that demonstrate your best vocal ability and style, and have a variety. If you sing nothing but Christine from Phantom, guess what? You’ll never be hired for American Idiot. Look your best. Wear comfortable shoes. Wear knits so you can breathe. Get your hair OUT of your face (no matter how cool you think you look). Avoid wearing any logos or noisy jewelry.
I had a choreographer who called a girl in the dance call “Nike” the entire time. You want them to remember your name, not your clothes. Look like your headshot. Know what’s on your resume (and don’t lie!!). Have a monologue prepared, and a joke ready to tell. Know a variety of recognizable songs to sing off the cuff. Don’t include anything in your repertoire book that you don’t know backwards and forwards. My book had three songs in it when I started. It still only has five: they are my best. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.
2. BE ON TIME
Does this matter if you’re the next Billy Porter? Yes. The fastest way to the Dark Side is a lack of punctuality. It is disrespectful to the hiring personnel, it is disrespectful to the others auditioning. Also: “on time” is late. Early is on time. There is always a way to get there on time. Go to bed early, find an alternate way to get there in case your primary falls through, set eight alarm clocks and have a friend call you. Your punctuality shows how important it is to you to be there.
3. BE YOURSELF
I didn’t say “be unique.” If you are yourself, you will be unique. I’ve been in communities where everyone is trying so hard to be “different” they all look the same. No one else is you. You can’t get more unique than that. This requires you to know who you are. In no other industry will you be told more what to be. If you don’t know who you are going in, be prepared for someone else to tell you.
This is NOT to say, “No, I can’t change the way I prep for a double pirouette. This is who I am.” That is not being yourself, that’s being a diva. Knowing yourself is knowing your values and what’s important enough not to waver on. This is the best sort of confidence. When people are content with themselves (even if they are still growing, which we all are), it exudes an unspoken confidence. These kinds of people can be given critique, with which they run and thrive with instead of being shot down. In this world, people are paid to know how to act—meaning they can also recognize it in a hurry. Don’t act like the person you think they want to hire. Be yourself. When someone is sure of themselves (not cocky, sure), it puts others at ease.
4. BE LIKEABLE
Maybe you don’t see the world as rainbows and butterflies. That’s okay. Smile anyway. Find a way to be friendly to strangers. In this industry, there are a billion good-looking, talented singers. Even if you cut it down to the 5’4”-5’9” blue-eyed brunettes (that’s me!!), you’ve still got way more than is ever needed. Directors and companies want to work with people who are NICE… i.e. people who are willing to take direction and work well with others.
People who put the good of the ensemble ahead of their quality time in the spotlight. If you want to be in a one-man show, write and produce it yourself. Smile, laugh at their corny jokes, answer their questions with more than yes’s or no’s. Example: “So, where are you from?” Answer A: (bad) “South Dakota.” Answer B: (good) “Mitchell, South Dakota— you know, home of the World’s Only Corn Palace?” This often strikes a “Ha, ha, really? What is that?”, which leads to a short conversation, that will make me a more memorable person. They’ll remember that they laughed when I was there, which puts a positive memory in their head.
Also: NEVER, EVER, EVER MAKE EXCUSES! Sure, your boyfriend called you a 3 A.M. last night to tell you that it’s over because you’re ugly. Then you woke up with strep throat. Then you missed the bus this morning, so you had to catch a cab, which smelled like cats, which you’re allergic to. Guess what? They don’t care. You go in there, and sing your face off, and imagine that you look like Giselle Bündchen.
You say NOTHING about your day or why your F wasn’t a clean mix. IF ASKED why your nose resembles Rudolph, you can tell them about the cat cab. But tell it in an off-hand, funny way, that doesn’t make you sound like a walking pity-party. Every single person who walks into those auditions has crap they have to leave at the door. You are never exempt. If you can’t leave it behind, stay outside until you can. Life doesn’t become perfect when you hit the road. They need to know that you can get past microphones that snuff out during the show. That when your partner accidentally drops you onstage, you won’t cuss them out. That when there’s a group of 14-year- olds on the front row, their pointing and snickering won’t phase you. Show them you can laugh through life and say “thank-you” to criticism.
I’m sure you’ve gathered that the point I’m making is that the most talented folks out there are not the ones getting jobs. It’s the nice people who are prepared and know what to expect. It’s the people with the firm handshakes and eye contact. It’s the ones that know how to tell an engaging story and leave behind something memorable, so that when the audition panel goes through the foot-high stack of headshots and resumés, they’ll point at one and say, “Oh, yeah, she’s that Corn Palace girl! Ha, ha, what did she sing again?”.
Performance Vocalist, Accompanist, Arranger
photo by Cameron Powell