Coming Soon! A brand-new Idiot’s Guides website, where you are the expert! Stay tuned for more details!

Browse Quick Guides by Subject

Choosing the Perfect Audition Song

Choosing the Perfect Audition Song

Share this with your friends

One of the most challenging things about auditioning for a musical is choosing your audition song. Does it show off your money notes? Does it convey the right emotion? There are a lot of mistakes to be made in choosing audition material for musicals, and you may think there is no perfect song for you. But you can find it! In this guide, we’ll show you how to select audition songs that not only show off your voice but are also appropriate to the occasion, and we’ll steer you clear of pitfalls of choosing the wrong song. We’ll also look at ways to stand out from the competition and make a director pleased to have heard you sing.

Don’t Invite Bad Comparisons

Even with proper rehearsal, singing the latest hit can be a mistake, because you’ll inevitably invite comparisons with the original singer. Everybody—including the director and producers—will have heard a big hit, and they’ll notice every way in which your rendition fails to live up to the recorded version.

When auditioning for musicals, it’s also wiser to stay away even from older songs that are strongly associated with a particular singer. Signature songs may not be on the radio at the moment, but you can be sure that almost any director is going to know exactly how Judy Garland sang “Over the Rainbow,” and remember very well how Barbra Streisand belted “People” in Funny Girl, the show and movie that made her a star. It’s almost impossible to compete with the fond memories of a signature song, so save them for the shower.

Finding a New Way to Sing It

You can still sing a well-known song—just stay away from the top hits of the moment and signature songs. That leaves thousands of great tunes to choose from.

But even with these you can make a better impression if you try to make a song your own in some way. For example, many popular singers, from Barbra Streisand to Cleo Laine to Judy Collins, have recorded Stephen Sondheim’s most famous song, “Send in the Clowns,” but they all approach it somewhat differently. Streisand gives it a slightly defiant tone, Laine emphasizes its wryness, and Collins adopts a more wistful tone. Any good song leaves itself open to different interpretations. Think about what the words and music mean to you, and shade the song with that emotion. Then the song becomes yours.

You can also change the tempo of a song. By singing a ballad in a livelier, more upbeat way, you can make it sound like a different tune. Or you can take a song that is usually treated as a showstopper and slow it down to give it a different feel. You have to use your common sense about this kind of change, of course.

Choosing Appropriate Songs

You need to have a repertory of audition songs at the ready, songs that are in the general style of several kinds of musical. Let’s look at a possible list of songs for both male and female voices that would show off your ability in different styles.

For Soprano Voices

Kind of Show Possible Song
Romantic Comedy “Ice Cream” (She Loves Me)
Serious Musical “I Dreamed a Dream” (Les Miserables)
Rock Musical “Let the Sun Shine In” (Hair)

For Baritone Voices

Kind of Show Possible Song
Romantic Comedy “The Sweetest Sounds” (No Strings)
Serious Musical “Pretty Women” (Sweeny Todd)
Rock Musical “Greased Lightning” (Grease)

Know a Song from the Show

Unless it is a brand new musical (written by fellow students at your college, say, or local residents for your community theater), you should always know at least one song from whatever musical you are auditioning for. It doesn’t necessarily have to be for the role you really want, so long as it is from the same show—although if you want a lead role that entails singing a very famous song, you’d better know it.

At Home with Your Range

What is the lowest note on the musical scale that you’re comfortable singing? What is your highest note? Some people are born with a very wide range, but every serious singer works hard over the years to extend his or her range. Some voices don’t “find themselves” until well into adulthood.

Regardless of what your range is at a given point in your life, never try to exceed it during an audition. The fact that you’re beginning to be able to sing a high F instead of just an E-flat doesn’t mean that you should give it the old college try when auditioning—even if you can hit that note two times out of three. Auditions are pressure situations, and you’re likely to be nervous. That means you’re more likely to miss a note you don’t quite have under control yet. When you can hit the high F every time, you’re ready to show it off at an audition.

One Too Many Quests

Certain songs get sung a great deal at auditions, either because they are popular with the public, or because they’re showy pieces that singers believe will make a vivid impression. But if several singers choose exactly the same audition song, the people conducting the audition will soon be tired of hearing it. They will also inevitably start making comparisons between the numerous renditions of the song. This is another case of singers inviting bad comparisons.

Remember, being talented is only half the battle. Being distinctive is just as important.

Now that you know what to watch out for and how to pick your song, it’s time to start looking! If you’re new to the musicals game, the best idea is to pick up a huge anthology of musical theater songs (many of these books are tailored to a specific voice range) and start singing. Experimenting with new songs not only builds your singing chops, but it expands your knowledge of the genre—and it’s fun. Have a great audition!

From The Complete Idiot's Guide to Acting by Paul Baldwin and John Malone