With the new season of America's favorite televised singing competition well underway, next season's hopefuls are currently dreaming about next year's tryouts. Many young adults and teens will show up woefully unprepared and unrealistic about their chances but the smart ones will be browsing the web for all the helpful hints they can dig up to hopefully gain an edge.
I tried out for American Idol two seasons ago, realistically expecting that at my best I might get through the first round, but just planning on having a fun day seeing what it was all about and trying to sing well enough to not get pushed through as one of the "bad singers". I managed to lose my voice during the "warm-ups" (and due to standing in the cold and rain for 4 hours) but was able to walk out with a good experience and my dignity in-tact.
In the two years since my humbling audition experience I have learned a lot of "need to know" tips that others may not be aware of.
Start preparing months early:
Take vocal lessons from a contemporary singing coach early on. Get at least one session with a coach who can help you discover your problem areas and give you a training plan that you can work on on your own.
Develop your chest voice. If you don't know what that is, find out or quit now! Work on the range of your chest voice, how you transition to head voice on higher notes, and develop your range and tone. Do "nyah nyah nyah" exercises to train your chest voice to sing higher so you can belt those high notes. If you can do that, the judges will love you.
Eliminate tension. Watch yourself in the mirror or videotape yourself singing and look for any place where you are tensing up physically. It looks bad and it constricts your tone. Relax those muscles and try singing it again.
Learn 2-3 audition songs. Find songs that fit your voice, style, and your range. Learn them inside-out. Once you know the song, try singing it slower, faster, higher, lower, louder or softer until you figure out the best way to sing each phrase.
Get someone else's opinion. Perform in front of friends (not your parents, they are biased) to get their opinions. Find someone who really knows music, not just someone who thinks you are wonderful.
On the day of the audition:
DRINK WATER. Make sure your voice and throat are in the best condition possible. DRINK WATER. Start drinking water as soon as you get up. You need to start hydrating yourself at least an hour prior to singing. This will help your vocal chords and throat be at its best. Don't eat anything that day that will coat your throat like dairy or sugary foods. Pack apples and celery sticks for breakfast and lunch the day of the audition and bring a two or three bottles of water. Throat spray for singers such as Vocalese or Entertainer's Secret are also helpful right before you are about to sing.
Do your own warm-ups. After you get your seat (which is assigned), go to the bathroom and do all your warm-ups. Don't blow out your voice screaming for Ryan Seacrest.
Don't be sick. Take Vitamin C for a week or so prior to the audition, wash your hands, do whatever you can do avoid getting ill.
Dress comfortably but stylishly. This is a job interview, after all. Personality is great, but you also want to show that you are taking the audition seriously. If you are going to wear high heels, bring slip-ons to wear until the actual audition. Dress to fit your voice type too, don't wear a cowboy hat unless you are singing country. If you have a rock vocal style, don't be a poser and dress like a goth or rock star unless you already are one. An outfit from Express would be more mainstream, but looking like you're going to a garden party would really be weird if you start singing some Janice Joplin.
Bring a friend... or not. Ask yourself - will this person make me more extroverted or more introverted? Will this person make me nervous if they are watching me audition? Or will I have a lot more fun if I bring this friend with me?
Bring your Nintendo DS. I made friends in line purely becuase we both had Animal Crossing. I gave him pears and he gave me a golden rose. Seriously, you will probably spend a lot of time waiting so bring something to calm your nerves. Boredom can also make you a lot less patient and nobody wants to see you rant and rave on live television because you got cut after waiting 8 hours for an audition. Or do they?
The main thing is to have fun and be realistic. If you want to win, you have to put in the work.
After the audition, if you walk away without a golden ticket, there is always next year.
Lastly, if someone tells you that you can't sing, that really means you are a very bad singer and clearly have no idea what you have gotten yourself into. HOWEVER - this does not mean that you can never sing. It just means that you need a LOT of work. If you seriously want to sing, get a vocal coach and learn what singing it about. Singing doesn't happen overnight, it can take years of practice, especially if you are starting from scratch without any clue or natural talent. But there is ALWAYS room for improvement and the first steps are the ones that will make the biggest difference.