American Idle

Wow – we’re coming up to the 14th season of a show that was thought by many to be a joke. Every year the audience gets bigger and every year more and more line up to audition. We are a nation of singers hungry to be discovered. Unfortunately, at the rate of one winner per year, it will take a millennium to give all who lust for the spotlight their due. Luckily, you don’t have to rely on contests to create some momentum towards your dream. There’s a prevailing thought that in order to have a career in show biz someone needs to discover you. The truth is you simply need to discover yourself, and then get off your duff.

Every summer, American Idol holds open auditions in many cities across the country. The announcement attracted thousands seeking a quick blast to stardom, but only a few from each location advance to some face-time with the three famous judges. Right off the bat many talented singers are eliminated because they weren’t willing to campout over night. Well, that certainly confirms the saying, “If you snooze you loose.” While I’ve heard plenty of great stories from those who made new friends during their vigils, I know the elimination process also crushed a lot of dreams. Many felt they missed out on an opportunity of a lifetime because they either didn’t make the cut or didn’t get a chance. The truth is no career was ever built on a single event. In show biz, a missed opportunity is nothing more than spilled milk.

A better name for a show based on overnight success would be, “American Folklore.” The premise plays right into our couch-potato mentality that if something doesn’t happen immediately it wasn’t meant to be. Often the time we spend wondering if something is worth the effort is longer than it would take to try. Consider this, little Britney Spears dragged her mother up and down the east coast for years to participate in talent shows and attend auditions. The hours the two of them spent just waiting for another sixty second shot was the equivalent of a full time job. In the end it wasn’t her singing or dancing ability that led to her fairytale success. It was her drive and one very understanding mother!

Now there’s no need to hang up your microphone if you’ve never been referred to as a fireball. Remember there’s also a fairytale where the turtle wins. It doesn’t matter how fast or what direction you move – just that you’re in motion. What keeps most singers frozen at the starting line of a career is a heart pounding, cottonmouth reaction to the word “audition.” Unfortunately, there is no way around this. If you have a desire to participate in the entertainment business in any way, you’re going to have to subject yourself to some scrutiny. The good news is that the chances of singing before the dreaded Simon are extremely slim.

Overcoming audition anxiety requires practice. Even extreme cases, like when the butterflies feel more like Piranhas in your stomach, can be calmed by preparation. To take away the stalling power of negative emotions, it’s best to approach an audition on a purely physical level. Think of the song as nothing more than an obstacle course. The vowels and consonants represent a series of lefts and rights to be negotiated over the hills and valleys of a melody.   The more you reinforce the moves, the less likely you are to panic. When it’s your turn to sing, your song should be as familiar as the path from your bed to the bathroom.

The best way to break a song down into its physical elements is to separate the lyrics from the melody. Memorize the lyrics as a poem and hum the song as a melody without words. While learning the melody, address any sticking points that may occur. If there’s a pitch you keep screwing up, practice it separately. Sing it on different vowel sounds. Sing it loud. Sing it soft. Invent exercises around the problem until it’s not a problem. Resist the temptation of camouflaging difficult notes by pretending they’re emotional moments. It’s important to be able to sing a song void of any feelings before you stylize. Even if you’re good at fooling people with vocal smoke and mirrors, you can’t fool yourself.

In the pressure of an audition, that little voice inside your head will remind you of every flaw you didn’t deal with when preparing. Things can unravel if you then assume the judges hear that same little voice in their heads. It’s easy to project your worst fears onto the blank faces of those listening. Insecurity can make you think they’re keeping a tally of every little mistake. Of course there’s no way to know what people are thinking until they speak up. The point is to keep practicing until your body sings on autopilot. That way, your internal critic can’t shoot you down before the judges weigh in.

Luckily, judges can’t read minds. All they can do is observe. It’s important to remember that they are under pressure too. Place yourself in their position. Would you want to hold the fate of another person in your hands? I’ve been a judge many times and still get sweaty palms when it’s decision time. What’s important to remember is that the judges are looking for a winner – not a loser. There are always factors which determine who gets the nod, especially when an audition is for a role in a play or to become a member of a band.   If you don’t fit what they’re looking for; you will be passed over no matter how well you sing. A simple logic would suggest, then, that you should only audition when the circumstances are right. In a perfect world maybe, but most of us don’t know what our true strengths are until challenged.

Placing yourself under the microscope of an audition or talent show is the best way to discover who you are as an artist. With this mindset, losing is just as valuable as winning. Both provide insight to strengths and weaknesses. Force yourself to audition as much as possible, even if you feel a situation isn’t right for you. This way you can practice auditioning as well as singing. Repetition is the key. Knowing you’re not in the running allows you to focus on your skills. So when the right situation comes along, you’ll be able to stay cool under pressure.

Listen carefully to any comments you may receive from a judge. They are the clues to your treasure hunt. Don’t become defensive. Even though it’s only one person’s opinion, it happens to be an influential opinion at that moment. Often, you will find that the comments that sting the most address issues you already knew were a problem. Use the hard lesson as a wake up call. Even someone else’s rejection can be a helpful. A big attraction of the show “American Idol” is watching the contestants handle the panel’s comments. Often, the comments revolve around singers not rising to their potential. Don’t let this happen to you. Practice, practice, practice.

If after your best efforts you are not chosen on any given day, take heart; you’re in very good company. Almost every current-day superstar has lost one or more competition along the way. Most of them describe the loss as a defining moment in their journey. It was the day they learned that success would not be handed to them. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they got busy. Take inspiration from their stories. Just as others have overcome the fear of auditioning, you too can transform from an idle American to an American Idol.