What makes people winners isn’t their talent – it’s their mindset. All you have to do is think like a dog.
I had a great canine companion for many years and, though she didn’t speak a word of English, she had no trouble getting me to do whatever she wanted. Like all Labrador Retrievers, chasing a tennis ball was in her DNA. The problem was that tennis balls don’t throw themselves – so she needed my help to pursue her passion. Often, she would prance into the room and drop a goopy fluorescent-green ball on my foot as an obvious message that it was time to play. Whenever I told her “no” she was undaunted. She would simply back up three paces and begin to stare intently at the ball. If I didn’t budge after five minutes, she would run up and grab the ball and place it back on the floor and refocus on it all over again. Watching her do this, you couldn’t imagine anything else on her little doggie mind but, “Hey, idiot – throw me the ball!” And you know what? I always did.
What my dog taught me about a focused intention is a great lesson for all performers. When you take the stage as a singer, the audience will yield control of the room over to you for about 30 seconds – which is all the time you’ll get in an audition. In that incredibly short amount of time, the audience will naturally make two critical judgments: What is this person’s intention and is she or he competent enough to pull it off? This is not a conscious judgment, mind you, but the unconscious answers to these questions will color every conscious opinion that follows. What kills a performance is if you fail to make it clear what you would like the room to do or feel. Without a clear intention, your audience will revert back to a random gathering of individuals instead of a group with a single focus.
Consider this example of a typical unfocused performance. The singer’s internal thoughts are expressed in italics. (The intro begins) Oh no, my mouth is incredibly dry. What if nothing comes out when I start to sing? (Begin to sing) Wow, I sound so strange through this PA system. (Approaching the first chorus) Okay, big breath now to make sure you support that high note. (Entering into the second verse) OMG I hit the high note! Wow is my heart pounding! Why is that guy just staring at me with a blank face? He must know I’m nervous. I’ve got to look less nervous! I’ll walk over to the other side of the stage and make some eye contact. (The second chorus begins) I should gesture with my hands or something. I must still look really nervous. Is that guy one of the judges? Okay, big breath again to support the high notes. (The bridge and third chorus finale) Shoot, the songs almost over and I haven’t moved enough. C’mon now, big arm movements for the finish! (Song ends to polite applause)
Since none of these scattered thoughts add up to an intention, the audience will become unfocused and left unfulfilled, even if the singing was beautiful. Now imagine what the audience’s reaction would be if for an entire song your only thought was, “Hey everybody, let’s dance! Hey everybody, let’s dance!” It’s easy to predict that everyone would be bopping to the music by the end of the song and burst into applause in appreciation of your zest and flare. Or, if you love to sing but are not completely comfortable with the performance being all about you, your intention can be to focus the audience on the song. For instance, you’re singing a favorite of yours and thinking all the way through, “I love this song. . . I love this song. . . I love this song.”
You can’t possibly plan for all the nuances and details that a single driving thought will bring out during your performance. Nor can you be ignored when singing with this mindset. It’s as infectious as being around someone who can’t stop laughing. If you can’t think of a focus point then let the song’s lyrics guide you. Just be sure you end up with a single intention, like joy, sorrow, love, etc. Make your intention obvious and make it meaningful to you. There’s absolutely no way of knowing whether everyone in the room will agree with you, but no one will ever fault you for going for something. In fact, most people are very happy once they have been lured into an intentional emotion that connects them to their feelings and to the feelings of others around them. They will thank you for reminding them they have a heart and call you a great singer for making them feel alive.
Now I can’t guarantee that you will sail through all your auditions but I can guarantee that the person who does get something you were passed on will have demonstrated exactly what my dog taught me years ago. So stay focused on a single intention throughout the entire song and people will respond to your singing like never before. I’ve seen it make tennis balls fly!