American Idol/The Voice Auditions Checklist
This is an article I wrote when American Idol was the only singing competition on TV. Now there are tons! Most of the tips here will also be helpful as you prepare for other televised singing competitions. Of course, make sure to research the specific audition guidelines for each competition. For more detailed information on auditioning, please check out my e-book Singing Live: The Performing Skills Guidebook for Contemporary Singers—It's filled with information on how to prepare for auditions like American Idol.
You've watched the show, you've seen the competition, and you think you're ready to come face-to-face with the judges on American Idol. The first step is to blow everyone away at the initial American Idol audition. The rules and audition format keep changing each year for each city where American Idol auditions are held, so be sure to check the American Idol site and prepare exactly what they specify for the city where you plan to audition. Here's a checklist to help you prepare:
1. Find a Good Audition Song
For most auditions you will be asked to sing just a chorus of a song, so make sure it's a great chorus that really shows you off. This is not a time for subtlety. You want to sing songs that hit people over the head, like "I Will Always Love You", "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and "I Believe I Can Fly". However, all of these songs I've mentioned will probably be sung by many other singers. Do your homework and find a song that's not as popular, but just as showy. Recent hits are in everyone's ear, so go back a way and find something older and great. Try singing songs originally made famous by a singer of the opposite gender to make it fresh. Also try jumping genres: "I Will Always Love You" was originally a country song until Whitney Houston reinvented it. A fresh approach to a killer song will get attention.
Find a song that shows off your full range without going beyond it. You don't want to be straining for any high notes, but you don't want to bore them with a song that's too easy. The key of the original song may be too high or low for you, but when you sing it a cappella you can put it in your key. Put it in the highest possible key where you still sound good. If the low notes are still too low find a different song, you won't be able to magically sing them at the audition. See my article about singing low notes for more on that.
If possible, get a track for your song in your key to practice with. That can be a karaoke version in the right key, or if you have a karaoke player you can change the key. Or, you may need to go to a vocal coach or accompanist for one lesson to get a piano version of the song for practice purposes. If you do this, make sure to get a version with and without the melody played, and while you're at it get one where just the bass notes of the accompaniment are played. I'll explain why in the next section.
2. Practice Your Song With Accompaniment
You will be auditioning without accompaniment, but too many singers forget to really learn the song before doing this. Then singing a cappella they go off-key. I had a singer come in last year right before an audition who managed to sing one chorus in five different keys! You'll want to develop your own version of the song, but learn the melody first. That means get that melody down. Record yourself singing along with the singer or "with melody" piano accompaniment and make sure your voice matches, especially on high notes, low notes, fast phrases and runs.
When you are comfortable singing your song with the singer or melody, practice with a version where the melody isn't played or sung. Focus on listening to the accompaniment while you sing, that will help keep you in tune. Record yourself again and listen for any pitch problems. Remember that sometimes singers go out of tune because they just need more practice, and sometimes they go out of tune for technical problems like too much throat tension. You may need to work more with the melody version of the song, but if you keep practicing and you're still out of tune, go see a vocal coach.
3. Practice Your Song Without Accompaniment
Now you want to see if you can keep it together singing a cappella. If you have a version where just the bass notes are played, try singing with that first. Or, start singing with the recorded accompaniment, turn off the track and sing a cappella—then check the track when you're done to see if you're still in tune. If you play an instrument you can use the same method, just play the first and last chord and sing a cappella in-between.
Once again, record yourself. If you're drifting to another key, go back and work with the accompaniment some more. If you sound good, get ruthless with yourself: evaluate your singing as if you were Simon Cowell. Listen for pitch accuracy, tone quality, expressiveness, articulation, and control. Polish your performance until it's a sparkling diamond.
4. Practice Your Song In Front of the Mirror
Now that your singing sounds good, it's time to make sure you look good. Get in front of the mirror and sing to yourself. Make sure you aren't bouncing around too much, or that you aren't a statue. You should look relaxed, but still have good posture. Your face should look interested as you sing, not like you're in pain. As you sing to yourself in the mirror try to focus on your forehead, which will keep your eyes from flitting around.
5. Film Yourself Performing Your Song
The camera doesn't lie: record yourself, then check for all of the already discussed visual, vocal and performance points. Taping yourself might kick up some nerves, too. For some help with those, see my article called Taming the Beast Called Stage Fright
6. Practice Your Song In Front of an Audience
Many singers are good at working their song feverishly up to this point, but forget to practice in front of people. Live performances have an energy that is hard to recreate at home, so the only way to prepare is to do practice performances. Sing at karaoke clubs as much as possible. Even though your American Idol audition will probably be off-mic and without accompaniment, this is still a good way to prepare. You could have a friend videotape your performance. Also, gather family and friends and perform your song for them. You could even tell them to act bored or tired, since that may be the emotional state of the people you sing for at the audition! Whenever a friend can spare thirty seconds to be your audience, sing for them. Singing in as many different places to as many different people as possible will prepare you for the craziness of the actual audition.
7. Practice Your Song in Your Sleep
Well, this is a joke, of course, but I do have a point to make. If your singing audition is like many of them, you will have been waiting a long time, perhaps even camping overnight, before you finally get to sing. You'll be tired, impatient, hungry or otherwise not at your best. Then when you finally get to sing, adrenaline will hit you like a lightning bolt. You want to be able to give a fantastic performance even if you're exhausted, nervous, hungry, angry, whatever. If you've practiced and fine-tuned your performance enough, you can transcend any physical or emotional state and still deliver the kind of knockout audition that will get you noticed.