The Most Common Mistakes Actors Make When Choosing An Audition Song

Picking a song for a vocal audition can be harder than the actual audition itself. After all, most auditions last about five minutes or less. Sometimes you get to sing a whole song, and sometimes you are asked to prepare 32 bars, 16 bars, sometimes even 8 bars.

So how do you choose a song that will represent you as a performer in just a few short minutes?

It’s not easy, and there are few things you definitely shouldn’t do. Here are 5 common mistakes actors make when choosing an audition song.

1. The song you’ve chosen is making your accompanist’s job harder

Smart actors make their accompanist’s job easy so they can play their best for you; your audition depends on it.

Give your accompanist a clean copy of your music containing only what you want them to play and what you are going to sing. Put it in non-glare sheet protectors in a three-ring binder so there’s no weird reflection from rehearsal studio lighting, and it won’t fall off the piano as they turn pages.

The name of the song, the composer(s), and the name of the show—if it’s from a show—should be at the top. It’s also a good idea to have a brief indication of the style written above the first bar (i.e. a rock power ballad). If the accompanist is not familiar with the song, all of this information will help them understand the feel you want.

Tempo or key changes should be clearly marked or highlighted so they’ll see them coming; you’ll want to point these out to them before you sing. And for the love of God, make sure the song is in the key you want.

When you are prepping your song, ask yourself:

Is this song too musically hard for a pianist who has never seen it before?

Are there excessive tempo/meter/key changes?

Is the copy I’m using legible?

Are the chords or the bottom piano staffs cut off/not visible on the copy I’m using? 

Is the musical information crystal-clear on the page (i.e. are my cuts marked correctly)?

2. The song you’ve chosen was made famous by a well-known singer

I don’t believe in straying away from “overdone” songs. If you do it well, if it showcases you in the best light, then go for it. But if your audition song was previously made famous by a well-established actor or actress, its time to move on.

Beware of songs made famous by these leading ladies:

Bernadette Peters

Patti Lupone

Sutton Foster

Kristen Chenowith

Idina Menzel

I know… we all would LOVE to go into the audition room and nail “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. While you might think this piece would be a very impressive demonstration of your skill set (and I agree)… it wouldn’t be the smartest choice.

The problem with picking a song like “Defying Gravity” is that the performance standard is set very high. When you choose an extremely well-known song that has already been done by a magnificent performer, you are creating expectations for yourself that weren’t there when you walked into the room.

Take another famous Broadway tune, “Astonishing” from Little Women. If you were to bring that song into an audition, everyone automatically thinks of Sutton Foster. And since there is only one Sutton Foster, there is a pretty good chance that you are not going to sound like her. And because of that, there is a pretty good chance that the panel watching your performance is going to be disappointed.

3. The song you’ve chosen highlights your weaknesses

Your audition song should be well within your vocal range, even on a bad day, to showcase the particular strengths of your voice. If the song is too high or too low for you voice chances are you will struggle at some points in the audition to nail a note.

Yes, we always have room to improve, and we should always be learning and working on new material so we can grow as performers, but that material should be kept in a second book.

Don’t bring material into the room until you feel absolutely confident you can nail it.

4. The song you’ve chosen feels too mature

You will know this in your gut.

As actors, its important to experience life. The older we get, the wiser we get, and thus we have more experiences to draw from in order to give our best performance.

However, if you find yourself singing a song because you like it, but you don’t quite understand the message, then perhaps you should look for another song.

Of course, we don’t have to experience everything in order to PORTRAY a character on stage, but if the character in the show is a mother or father and you are only in your teens, you may want to look elsewhere.

5. The song you’ve chosen is inappropriate to the style of show you are auditioning for

Your song choice is just as important as the personality you bring with you into the room.

Smart audition songs lend themselves very well with the creative teams behind the table.

IF you are required to sing something from your book, choose a song that is appropriate to the show and character that you are auditioning for. If you are auditioning for Bright Star, a folk/country musical, it would make no sense to bring in a piece from Sweeney Todd (even if you sing the crap out of it). Right?    

If you need help, take a closer look at the authors of the show.

The music and lyrics of Legally Blonde are written by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. If you are auditioning for a production of Legally Blonde, consider singing something from Heathers (written by the same team.)

The music and lyrics of Into The Woods are written by Stephen Sondheim. If you are auditioning for Into the Woods, consider singing something from his other shows like A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday In The Park With George, etc.

The music of Beauty and the Beast are written by Alan Menken. Alan Menken has written a ton of music for Disney shows. If you are auditioning for Beauty and the Beast, consider singing something from Aladdin, Newsies, Hunchback,  Little Mermaid, etc.

Get the picture?

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