In Singing Competitions, Song Choice is Everything

Last week, I judged the December video entries for Ohio Idol. The competition was fierce this round! I’m looking forward to judging the January 80’s entries and, eventually, the live competitors.

Some of the videos were taken in a quiet, home setting, but many were recorded at live shows. I was struck by how the audience reacted to some of the performers, and it gave me pause to consider my own performance and how it touches my audience.

Almost all the singers had great voices; they have an amazing amount of talent and should continue to nurture that talent, because they could easily become professional singers even if they don’t advance in the Ohio Idol contest. But in comparing performances – not just singing, but performances – the performers who had their audiences engaged win hands down.

In a completely unrelated conversation, Karen, our MTMS receptionist, commented that many famous singers aren’t that great of singers, but they know how to make an audience feel good. Her comment solidified the thought that had been brewing in my mind after watching two competitors on the same stage in a local contest. One singer performed “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele, and she had her audience on their feet, clapping, cheering, hootin’ and hollerin’. The other performer, perhaps just as accomplished a singer, sang “Beautiful Disaster” by Kelly Clarkson.

Now, Kelly Clarkson can sing anything she wants. She’s already established herself. But I think this competitor made a bad song choice. It showed off her voice beautifully – and it was indeed beautiful – but it was boring. It was evident in the video that the audience talked through her entire performance.

No one talked through “Rolling in the Deep.”

The thing is, pretty songs have their place, or there wouldn’t be so many of them. They make an audience feel. “Beautiful Disaster” is the perfect song when I’m feeling melancholy, and I’m alone at home or in my car. It touches my soul. It might even bring tears to my eyes, if I’m having a particularly vulnerable day. That’s what music does – it touches us. It speaks to us.

But in a live contest where you’re competing with not only other singers, but other singers’ fans, friends and family, you’ve got your work cut out for you. You have to find a way to capture the attention of your audience. Because when Kelly Clarkson’s fans go to a Kelly Clarkson concert, they want to hear Kelly. They’ll quiet and listen when she sings a gorgeous, melancholy song. But when you’re performing for someone else’s fans, someone else’s audience, it doesn’t work.

I noticed this in particular because I’m one of those pretty song singers. I have a few upbeat songs, but if I had to estimate percentages, I’d say less than twenty percent of my repertoire consists of upbeat, hand-clapping, hootin’-and-hollerin’ songs. And when I sing those songs, people notice. They smile. They clap. They sing along.

I need more of those songs in my repertoire, but they’re harder to play on a solo acoustic guitar. They all start to sound the same.

But if I were entering a vocal competition, one in which I was permitted to use an accompaniment track (which entrants may do in the video competitions, but not in the live competition in June – another reason to enter now!), I would choose something like “Rolling in the Deep” as my audition piece.

So here are a few words of advice for entering a singing competition: Song choice is everything.

Ohio Idol December Video Competition: Rolling in the Deep

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.