Updated: Mar 1, 2019
Well, tis the season! I’ve had a handful of my students come to me recently with the request “Musical auditions are soon! What should I sing?” and still a few more new students who have come to me hoping to get their first singing lessons and be as prepared for the auditions as they can be. I’m in love with their dedication and enthusiasm! It has brought me back to my days of performing at KVHS and then training at the Randolph Academy, and the agonizing I used to do in my own audition preparations. There’s so much to think about, so I thought I’d type up my top 3 tips for preparing for a musical audition!
#1: Choose the Right Song
Sometimes in auditions you are specifically asked to sing something from the show by a character you are hoping to play. This makes the decision very easy! Other times, however, you aren’t given any direction at all, except perhaps a song from another musical. With all of the options out there, this can be a little overwhelming! To make the first cut, you need to consider the style and era of the show for which you are auditioning. If the show is from the 1950’s, try to choose something from another show that was written around the same time. You wouldn’t, for example want to audition for The Sound of Music with a song from In the Heights. It would make it hard for the panel to envision you singing anything from the show they’re hoping to cast, and it normally wouldn’t show off the quality of your voice appropriate for the show either, which won’t work in you favour. For The Sound of Music, a song from Cinderella, Oklahoma! or Carousel, for example, would be a much stronger choice to show off what you can do in the right style.
Next, consider the role you think you’d be suitable for. Is it the strong-willed lead? The intolerable villain? The naive ingenue in love for the first time? The character-role best friend with a show-stopping, comedic song? Try to choose a song from the same era that suggests the personality of the character you are aiming for, or at least their vocal style (Legit soprano or tenor? Mixy belt? Rap?). This will help the panel to not only hear the right colour of you voice for the role, but will also help them see you as that character.
Finally, and probably most importantly, sing a song that you do well. We all have goals we are working toward as singers, and maybe you have a song in mind that would cover the above criteria really well but focuses on the technique you are still working on. If this is the case, no matter how badly you’d like to sing it, be honest with yourself and ask if it’s going to demonstrate your best abilities as a singer in the short amount of time you have. Maybe you’re learning to belt and you’ve come a long way (Yay you!) but there’s one part of the song you just cannot make it through with ease yet. Would it be better to show the panel where your weakness is, or show them a song that you are far more comfortable with and rock even if it might not be your first choice? I think we can all agree that the latter is the better option, especially since you normally only have 30 seconds to a minute to show off what you can do! So make the most of it! Go in with a song that makes you feel confident and empowered, and not one that makes you feel so stressed that you obsess over that one tricky spot and neglect to give the rest of your performance your full attention.
And if you’re still stuck for ideas or you’re not sure what will show you off the best, ask your teacher! We have a plethora of ideas and can help you identify your best strengths as a singer and performer. Don’t have a teacher? Ask others you’ve performed with or sung with, or better yet, book a couple of coachings with a teacher! Preparing for an audition with this level of dedication can be a really beneficial learning experience!
If you’re auditioning for a musical, chances are you love to sing. Perhaps you’re even going into you audition prepared with your all time favourite song to sing and you can’t wait! This is a great scenario! But before you go flying in to sing, stop and break it down.
Before audition day, take ample practice time or time with your teacher/coach to make sure you are singing the song to the best of your ability. Are you applying your technique? Using the best tone you’ve got? Breathing deeply? Recognizing the musical markings in your score? Have you applied dynamics? Shape to the song? Are you pronouncing all of the words correctly? (You might laugh, but you’d be surprised!) We spend so much time doing exercises and vocalises to help with breath control, vowels, sound production and so much more! Don’t underestimate how applying those same concepts to a song can help you bring it to the next level. Furthermore, ensure you are singing the song in the appropriate style for the show. (You wouldn’t want to belt your way through “Think of Me,” nor would you want to show off your gentle head voice in “Gimme Gimme.”) Not sure or feeling overwhelmed by this suggestion? Talk to your teacher. He or she will be able to help fix trouble spots, use the best technique and give you the confidence that you’re doing your best. Sometimes, that’s really all we need!
On audition day, when I say breathe- I really mean it! BREATHE! We can get so nervous at times- probably even more nervous singing in front of three or four people than you would in front of five hundred, and that’s ok! Just make sure you take a deep breath, ground yourself, stay present and sing your best in the moment. I had a teacher in college once say to my class “If you do 80% of the performance you practiced at home in your audition, that was a very, very successful audition.” Artists are perfectionists. I know very few singers who will ever say “There! That was the absolute best I can ever do!” No, we are always looking for ways to improve and can be very guilty of over-analyzing our performances and negatively judging ourselves. Don’t do that. Give yourself that room to learn and grow. Auditions can be very hard and stressful, but if you go in fully prepared and do the best you can do in the moment, it’s a successful day! Even if you got rained on en route and your curls fell out, you forgot to bring your water bottle and you ended up having to wait for 45 minutes in the hallway without a chance to warm-up again. It’s ok! These days happen! Just do the best you can do in the moment, in the situation you’re in.
#3: Act Your Pants Off!
As I mentioned above, auditions are fast. You have a limited amount of time to show the panel what you can do, so make the most of it! Don’t let the intimidation of the situation cause you to freeze up and hold back. Having a nice singing voice and singing a song well won’t do it if you lack in expression and connection with the material.
Consider what the song is about. What is the character singing about? What story is he/she telling? What do we know about them, their background and past experiences? What is happening in the show leading up to this song? What state of mind is the character in? Why is he/she singing this song? Who is he/she singing it to? What for? There’s always a reason! What does he/she hope to accomplish by singing it? Put it in context! Make some active acting choices that bring the song to life as a scene or a conversation. I’ve often heard the expression that in musical theatre when the situation gets so heightened that words fail, you sing. So as the performer you need to consider how to get the song to that heightened state from the very moment you start to sing. You might even be able to relate the situation to a personal experience to help you, but if not, the answers are always found in the script. Put yourself in the position of the character. How would you feel, react or express this?
Then, consider how the expression in your face, your voice, your body language and gestures can help you communicate your ideas. Now I’m not saying choreograph a full song and dance routine! That would be overkill. Honestly, I wouldn’t even necessarily tell you to choreograph blocking - save that for the show itself. You do, however, need to stay in the moment and sing in full sentences or thoughts. Use the lyrics to help you tell the story, and if there is a gesture or movement that comes to you naturally- do it! Stay focused on one moment at a time and follow the journey the song takes you on. Every single word you say has to have meaning to you, so there is a lot of preparation involved in this! And once you get the adrenaline running in the audition, things can change so make sure you have a plan to guide you in telling the story. Then...
Trust your technique and your preparation.
Do what you know you can do.
Live in the moment and give ‘er.