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So You Want to Be the Next American Idol

Updated on August 14, 2013

In this day and age of instant fame through reality television, there is a sense that anyone can be a star. Singing competitions are popping up left and right and while there are extremely talented vocalists with lots of experience who see this as their possible big break, there are more people who have little or no experience or background in singing or performing and think that this is the quick way to get famous. So you want to be the next American Idol? Let's look at what being a professional singer is really all about.

You have to know how to sing

OK, this seems really obvious but some people don't seem to see it as a prerequisite! Singing is an art form. Singing is not just about being able to carry a tune along with the radio. Singing is not about "riffing" and doing flashy vocal pyrotechnics. Singing is not about screaming the highest pitch you can reach. Singing requires technique because technique is what protects your voice from damage, what gives you stamina and what allows your voice to shine in its uniqueness. The technique of singing includes:

  • Breathing - singing is all about the movement and control of breath. Your ability to breathe properly is dependent on posture, relaxation, expansion of chest, abdomen and back - you must know not only how to get a low, full and relaxed breath but how to control that breath, which leads me to the next point:
  • Support - this is about the engagement of abdominal muscles in order to control how the breath is used. Support is the aspect of the technique that allows you ultimate control of how your voice sounds and works - reaching high notes, controlling it in soft and loud passages, making a clear (rather than breathy) sound, and more
  • Placement - when you have taken a good breath and you know how to utilize it, you need to focus it somewhere to achieve the optimum resonance (how the tone vibrates, reverberates and carries). You place the tone (focusing the air) into a specific spot inside your mouth to achieve the clear tone you want

Confused yet? Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg! Technique includes even more aspects like:

  • The ability to sing in tune
  • An expansive range
  • The ability to carry your voice over a band (even with a microphone, your voice still has to be able to carry!)
  • and more!

You need to understand something about music

This sounds weird, doesn't it? What is there to know about music that we all don't know? Plenty! While you don't necessarily need to know how to read music in order to win American Idol, you do need to understand certain components of music.

  • Melody - yes, that's the tune but in order to sing convincingly, it's not enough to just sing notes. You need to be able to shape a melody, sometimes dictated by the words, so that the musical line goes somewhere and makes an impact. It's also important to note that every song has a clearly defined melody and that just because you can "riff" all over it like Christina Aquilera, doesn't mean you should. Always start with the melody as written and add embellishment only if it is warranted at a special moment
  • Rhythm - you must have a good sense of rhythm otherwise the musicians who are accompanying you will not be able to follow you and support you properly. Understanding the rhythmic structure of the music not only means the duration of the notes you sing but also means that you know where to place the melody properly over the correct harmonic progression
  • Form - this addresses the overall structure of the song - the introduction, the verse, the refrain, the chorus, the coda, etc. Understanding the form of a song informs you how to shape the overall performance of the song so there is an ebb and flow, a climax, and more. You don't want to sing your loudest in the introduction and you don't want to be intimate in the climax of the song. You have to understand the structure of the song to be able to perform it convincingly.

You have to have something to say

You may say, "But I'm singing, not talking!" Well, that's not what I mean. Music has the ability to move people. When people hear a song, sometimes they are inspired to cry or dance or laugh or scream out. This is not just because it's a good or sad or funny or moving song on its own. It is because the performer communicated a truth about that song from a deep understanding and connection to the words. Finding that connection to a song means that you can dig deep inside yourself and allow yourself to be vulnerable. You must let the audience in to your soul and that takes a lot of courage. When you stand on stage to sing a song, it's YOU that we want to connect with. If you don't have something to say, we won't want to invest in you. That means we won't pick up the phone to save you.

Still want to try it?

So have I scared you off yet? I don't mean to! You can learn these things. But that's the point - you need to study these things. A private voice teacher can teach you the basics of singing, of music and the art of performing. Study and practice and allow yourself to be vulnerable. And don't quit your day job....yet.

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