What NOT to sing

by Jeffrey Carter

I’m writing today from the International Thespian Society Festival 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In the past four days, I’ve witnessed over 325 high school juniors auditioning for college admission in tw0-minute segments.  Many of these students sang a portion of a song as part of their audition.

In a continuing effort to provide for stronger auditions from all, I’m offering this sage advice (without judgment, in hopes that this may help!) to any who are auditioning for a singing role in a show, or for musical theatre admission at college . . . .

1.  Be certain your sixteen- or 32-bar cutting has a satisfying ending.  Don’t just trail out because you hit the right number of measures.  Arc is important, as is closure.

2.  Think three times . . . and maybe four . . . about what to wear.  You’re a teenager.  Some clothes are more appropriate than others when viewed by 30- to 70-year-old college professors and representatives.  Know your audience!  If your pants have belt loops, wear a belt.  If you are larger-chested, do not wear a high-waisted dress.  And keep your lovely hair out of your face!  We do wish to see your eyes.

3.  Do NOT bring with you any of these songs:

  • Jason Robert Brown

    anything from Next to Normal.   The music was written for very specific voice types, and not only requires some very specific technique, but also a particular sound that we are all hearing in our mind since we’re comparing you to the Broadway show and soundtrack.

  • ditto ANY Jason Robert Brown music.  And the piano music is way too hard for most accompanists, so you will be thrown off track by stumbles from the keyboard.
  • any faster Sondheim music.  Again, the piano music is way too hard for most accompanists, so you will be thrown off track by stumbles from the keyboard.
  • Maybe This Time.  We’re going to compare you with Liza with a Z when she was still fabulous.  That’s simply not fair to you.
  • anything from Annie.  Most of us don’t want to hear music an aspiring college student sing music from a show that features kids, and often lots of them.
  • Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.  Most high school boys don’t have the vocal weight or voice range to sing this well, as its nearly two octaves are a stretch.  And we automatically hear the Broadway or West End recording in our mind.
  • ditto On my own and I Dreamed a Dream.  They’re lovely songs.  We love them.  And we compare you to the Broadway originals who had years of belting experience  under their . . . um . . . belts.  You won’t sing it as well, and we can’t help the comparison.
  • Shy.  We’re comparing you to Carol Burnett.  She’s a goddess.
  • What I did for love.  This is one of those hackneyed audition songs that we really don’t care to hear again.  No matter how much you love the song, you aren’t aware that we cringe when we hear this slated.

What can you sing?

  • Don’t forget the Golden Age songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Lerner and Loewe, or Irving Berlin.  Harnick and Bock is nice.  So is Kander and Ebb IF you have a sense of their style.  And what about Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, or Hammerstein and Kern – IF you can make the word-play work in these 20’s and 30’s songs.
  • Post-millenial music if it’s not shouty.
  • Early or later Stephen Schwartz, but not Wicked.
  • Kurt Weill if you’ve dealt with the text and really can sell it.
  • Sondheim ballads if you really understand the character.
  • Something that really fits your personality!

One other point: if you say you are a soprano, sing a soprano song. Don’t belt.  Likewise for tenors.

Here are two more blog entries I’ve posted over the years about auditions:



In all of these postings, I’m aiming to help win the audition, rather than just criticize, as I speak from my own experience as the person bestowing the admission and scholarship decisions, the ratings, and the roles.