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Auditions; Relevance to the Industry, Judging Process, Hacks and Experience

Deejay Mash has been in the entertainment industry for over 20 years. He is also an experienced event organizer and entertainment consult

The Destiny's Child trio of  Kelly Rowland, Beyonce and Michelle Williams were first discovered on the TV talent show Star Search in 1993.

The Destiny's Child trio of Kelly Rowland, Beyonce and Michelle Williams were first discovered on the TV talent show Star Search in 1993.


Auditions are a recurrent feature in the world of entertainment and a quick, effective avenue to tap, nurture and grow raw talent. Auditions come in various forms and purposes; they could be for a recording deal, job, acting role, model search, a comedy show, to find new radio and TV presenters among others.

Some of the biggest stars in entertainment were discovered through auditions like Beyonce, Britney Spears, Adam Lambert, Christina Aguilera and hundreds of others.

In entertainment, auditions play an important role;

  • Scouting for new talent is a time consuming and costly exercise. Auditions narrow down the options, scope, and reduce the time a normal search would take
  • Auditions bring together lots of promising talent under one roof. Casting directors, music label scouts and agents get a chance to spot potential prospects for current and future projects
  • The entertainment industry receives a breath of fresh air courtesy of new faces, sounds and sights. Auditions rejuvenate the industry
  • Talent searches are huge reality TV shows that keep millions of audiences across the globe glued, mesmerized and on the edge of their seats. For example, at its prime, American Idol drew 6.5 million viewers per episode
  • The popularity of auditions presents businesses with a great platform to sponsor, advertise, grow their brands and inject revenue into the industry
  • Scholarships, record and movie deals, TV show cast, modeling contracts and other opportunities are created during auditions
  • Auditions provide a chance for industry players, new and existing, to network. Numerous joint projects and collaborations are initiated this way

The Judging Process

An audition is a nerve-racking, nail-biting, emotionally-draining, scary and tense affair. This is because only a very short time (3 minutes max), is allocated to hopefuls to showcase their skills. An experienced judging panel, on the other hand, can arrive at a decision in seconds.

The best way to approach job auditions and talent searches is to understand how the judging process works. Let us use the example of a talent search audition for musicians, as it is the most common. But the majority of standards apply across most auditions.

Evaluation Standards

Judges use a 5-point system to evaluate performance; with 1 as the lowest score and 5 the highest. Here is what the scores represent;

  • 5 – excellent, outstanding, talented and professional level performance
  • 4 - above average, impressive but not quite there yet
  • 3 - good, average, visible flaws and shortcomings
  • 2 - requires more work, serious flaws
  • 1 - poor, below-par, intolerable, lack of skill or preparation

A score of 1 is rarely awarded because most hopefuls are serious and put some hard work and long hours into their performances. Another reason is that most talent searches conduct pre-auditions to weed out the number 1 group. Additionally, not many attain the number 5 score. Most participants fall in the number 2, 3 and 4 categories.

On average, seven key areas are considered in the judging process. These are;

Actor Chris Evans was signed to star as Captain America in the Marvel series in 2010 after an audition on Backstage.

Actor Chris Evans was signed to star as Captain America in the Marvel series in 2010 after an audition on Backstage.

1. Stage Presence and Audience Engagement

This includes a performer’s mode of dressing, how they utilize stage space, dance moves, chemistry with the band (if applicable), and their impact on the audience. Dress code should match the genre of music. For example, a rock, reggae, country and R n B performer should have attires associated with the respective genres;like a cowboy hat, jeans and boots for a country music performer.

Make-up is also observed as it enhances a performer’s facial expressions and overall features. Most judges try to visualize a performer in a live concert setting to decide whether the dressing, genre of music and makeup fit the bill.

Stage movement during a performance is also taken into account. Judges do not expect a singer to stand still like a statue the entire time, even if they are performing a slow song. Moving up and down the stage, getting close to the audience and subtle dramatic moves appeal to judges. It shows the performer is at ease and comfortable on stage.

Remember to avoid any excesses and be as natural as possible.

2. Articulation

Song lyrics should always be clear and audible. Judges and the audience should never strain to hear the words, regardless of the language a performer chooses to use. Lack of clarity implies a performer needs either to work on their vocals, microphone handling skills or settle for a song they are comfortable with.

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3. Tone

While it sounds basic and simple, singing out of tune is a reality even if it is just a single note. In such a situation, judges exercise their discretion. Some may choose to ignore it, while others may deduct one point. But if 99% of the intonation is excellent, a majority of judges let it pass; especially if all the other categories tick the boxes.

4. Vocal Range and Quality

Here, judges listen to how a performer hits the highs and lows of a song. Good vocals are subject to varied tastes and opinion, depending on who you ask. However, judges dwell on the singing technique and if it affects the overall quality of sound. This may include the singing posture, breath support, voice pitch and projection. A bad singing posture, for example, tremendously affects vocal quality and a few adjustments can work wonders.

Take the time to identify where your vocal range lies and select a befitting song. Ensure you do not strain your vocal chords; they should function naturally and effortlessly. This is how and when you discover the most suitable vocal range.

5. Rhythm

Also referred to as ‘groove’, it is one of the most important factors that determine the quality of a performance. Judges listen and observe if the groove flows seamlessly, if it is rushed, halting, drags, forced or stumbling.

A performer’s movements, diction and intonation should be in tandem with the rhythm and the music style. For example, a salsa, pop, classic and rock song should each have distinct rhythm and paces.

6. Performance Dynamics

A performance can either be boring, mediocre or great. How one arrives at that decision, is difficult to place a finger on. It could be based on the dance moves, voice fluctuations, transition(s), the intro/outro of a song, to overall performance. This is commonly referred to as the 'X-factor.'

The best approach is to strive to be as interesting as possible without overdoing anything. Also, a performance can be negatively affected by stage fright for first timers, learn how to overcome it.

7. Choice of Song

Here, judges observe if the performer remembers the lyrics, hits the right keys, sound quality, if the song is an appropriate choice for the particular audition, and within the performer’s vocal range. Also, whether the tempo is right, if the start key is correct, if the song suits the big stage or a small venue, among other factors.

Performers should also consider the allocated time and adjust their songs accordingly. For example, if your song choice is 5-minutes in length and the time given is 2-minutes, sing only the parts of the song that bring out the best in you.

This is also where the level of preparedness, creativity and confidence becomes evident to judges and the audience.

Super-model Winnie Harlow got her big break as a competitor on America's Next Top Model in 2014.

Super-model Winnie Harlow got her big break as a competitor on America's Next Top Model in 2014.

Audition Experience

Although I can’t sing to save my life, I have been through enough Dj auditions to last me a lifetime.

A few years back, a big club had plans to hire a Dj. They did not officially advertise but opted to just put the word out on the street. The Dj community is closely-knit and the news spread fast. The information I had about the club was general; it was popular, paid well and the address, was at a convenient location.

I received the news on a Thursday, and the audition was slated for the following Monday evening. A Monday audition is tricky, because it is a slow day in clubs; which means, no crowd to read or guide you on the preferred music tastes.

That Saturday, which was the club’s busiest day, I paid the place a visit and sat at a convenient table; observed the type of crowd, owner, listened to the music and got a feel of the entire establishment. When I left two hours later, I had all the information I needed.

Twelve Dj’s showed up for the audition on that Monday. Each was allocated 20 minutes, and most played the latest music at the time. I was the last to audition and began my set with 90’s music.

I was hired on the spot, and my set extended for the next 2 hours.

Later, the manager informed me that by the time I was mixing the second song, the club owner had already made a decision to hire my services.

I worked there for the next three years.

Moral of the story

Information is power; make it a habit to conduct research. It may not pay instantly, but eventually your efforts will be rewarded. Learn as much as you can about the theme and main objective of the audition; find out about the employer, judges, sponsor, get a feel of the venue and any other relevant information about the event you can lay your hands on.

Use it to your advantage; to prepare, decide how and what to perform, learn set standards and any other requirements-down to the minutest of details.

You can never go wrong with informed decisions based on facts; and it places you securely miles ahead of the pack.

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