LA confidential: behind the scenes at the John Legend BV audition

Auditions; I hate them. Well hate is a strong word but I dislike being uncomfortable and auditions make me uncomfortable, so I’d rather not audition at all.

Here in LA with vocal contractors/fixers and musical directors hiring directly, auditions can be few and far between.

After years of hard work and hustle I’m one of the small group of singers blessed to have those relationships. I don’t know everyone and plenty of opportunities pass me by; but my last audition was a year ago (#bookedit) and thankfully it was a small one.

But auditions are a necessary evil if you want to be a successful working singer. Like it or not, there will be occasions when all your years of hard work and training will be judged by just one person in a room in a few short minutes.

The process can be so nerve-wracking many singers experience physical trauma – butterflies, sweaty palms and a dry mouth; some draw a blank and forget their lyrics. Then there is the inner dialogue: “Am I good enough? Did I choose the right song? What are they looking for?.”

So how can a singer succeed in an audition? After 25 years of going through the process I have learnt how to cope (see my tips). The key is preparation; do your research about the gig or artist you’re auditioning for. And remember: no matter how good or well-prepared you are the person doing the casting just might be looking for something else, and that’s ok. You still rock.

As intimidating as they can be, auditions do have some advantages. When new singers relocate to a new city to pursue their dreams it can be hard to find work. It really is who you know (most of the time), and it can take time to build up these contacts. Auditions level the playing field and give everyone, amateur or a pro, a chance to strut their stuff.

This is why I spread the word when I heard through the LA singer grapevine that Grammy award winning R&B singer John Legend was having an open call audition for background singers.

In this issue of The Working Singer I head to Hollywood to get an insider’s view on the audition process. I talk to a few audition hopefuls and chat with Eugene “Man-Man” Roberts, who is John Legend’s musical director (and my good friend) about the nationwide search for background singers.

The Working Singer: Behind the scenes of the John Legend BV audition

Denosh’s Audition tips

  • Do your homework
    If you can, learn the music you will need to sing in the audition; it will save the casting team time and you embarrassment. If you aren’t given any musical direction, familiarise yourself with the artist you are auditioning for and learn a few of their songs. Take sheet music and work with a vocal coach in the lead-up to your audition.
  • Be on time
    Scratch that. Be early. Always allow time for parking if you’re driving, delays with traffic or public transport, and time to walk to the location, sign in and warm up.
  • Dress the part
    The artist or musical director wants to be able to imagine you in the role you’re auditioning for, so make sure you look presentable and professional. Take cues from the artist’s style and look stage ready.
  • Warm up
    Make sure you are vocally warmed up and ready to sing to your full capability. You may be asked to switch parts if singing in a group or learn harmonies that are outside your comfort zone. You don’t want any surprises and want to demonstrate your versatility. For auditions where you are in close quarters and may feel intimated about singing aloud, doing pitch glides, ascending and descending scales or blowing your song through a straw will keep you warm and won’t annoy other singers.
  • Travel with the tools of the trade
    Carry a headshot and resume just in case you are asked for one. I also take a phone charger, bottled water and a book (so old school) to keep myself occupied when there is a long wait.
  • Be positive
    Approach an audition as a wonderful opportunity to show your best. It is a chance to showcase all your hard work and meet new people who can provide future opportunities. Be friendly, and thank the people who have given you their time.
  • Have fun
    Even when you do your best, you still might not get the part; perhaps they are looking for something specific and you just don’t fit the bill. Walk away with your head held high, and feel good about yourself, knowing you gave it all you had.

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Denosh Bennett is a Canadian-born singer, dancer and artistic director with two decades of experience in the entertainment industry. Her versatility and broad résumé has led her to tour as a dancer and/ or backing vocalist with many international artists including Faith Evans, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Drake, Whitney Houston, Robbie Williams, Demi Lovato and Rihanna.