Home"The Sing-Off" Audition Experience, Second Time Around

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If you haven't heard of the Sing-Off, just leave right now. Seriously, go away, go to Hulu, go to NBC.com, go anywhere and go watch the show. Sometime back in the day, someone from Avoca Productions decided that they weren't content with producing “America's Best Dance Crew”, and thought they should jump on the a cappella bandwagon. The show rode in on the coattails of the collegiate a cappella craze that began with Pitch-Perfect [http://www.mickeyrapkin.com/pitchperfect/], and continued through the release of Ben Folds' collegiate a cappella album and MTV's ill-fated appearance at the 2009 ICCA. I won't take the time to summarize the show other than the following – Nota won, Bobby McFerrin is just an unfair human being and should not be allowed to exist, Nick Lachey is a stuffed sweater, and Nicole Scherzinger is too hot for her own good.

Rabid and casual fans alike awaited news of the show's future from the minute the credits rolled on the finale episode last December, and groups everywhere rejoiced when a second season was announced earlier this year. Auditions took place in New York on May 22nd with callbacks on the 23rd, Nashville on the 29th, Chicago on the 31st, and in Los Angeles on June 5th with callbacks on the 6th. Auditions this time around were far better publicized than those for the first season, and so even more groups were expected to show up this year.

The experience this time around is far different from that of the first time around. Last season, auditions were in a small room that, at least in New York, almost had more lighting equipment in it than it did room for people. This year, New York's were held in the large 4th floor auditorium in the Kimmel Center at NYU. Other cities' auditions were in similarly larger spaces. That said, this year was not without its bumps. I had a particularly interesting experience, as I was able to audition with two groups, in two different places. Here's how it went.

The New York Audition with the 'Mates

I'm not going to go into the fiasco that was getting to the actual audition. Suffice it to say that the Tufts Amalgamates left Boston at 10:30 pm, and were in New York City at the Kimmel Center 10 hours later, after a brief stop at my house on Long Island. The audition space was great…so I hear. I never got to see it. The New York auditions were on May 22nd, which was, by serendipitous coincidence, the weekend of graduation at Tufts. Because of this, we scheduled our audition at 9:00 AM, and planned on leaving NY via car no later than 9:30. Ah, the best laid plans.

Our schedule was immediately thrown off as we walked in the door. After our forms were dropped off and we were settled into the waiting room, in rushed Ed Boyer, looking just a bit flustered. It was then that we were informed that the set and backdrop had been delivered to the Kimmel Center two hours late. Our 9:00 AM audition was now happening, “no earlier than 11:00.” Because of our pressing need to graduate, Avoca's production staff jury-rigged us an audition-interview combo in the interview room using one camera and two boom mics instead of the full set up in the main auditorium. Huge and sincere thank yous go especially to Lacey, the NY auditions coordinator who worked with us every step of the way, up to and including during the audition, to make sure we auditioned as close to on-schedule as possible.

The actual audition was simple and pretty straightforward. I can't speak to how it went for other groups in NY because of our unconventional audition. The basic format – we got up in front of the camera, introduced ourselves, and started singing. In between our three songs, we were asked questions ranging from how the group started, to what our “mission statement” was, to who in the group had hooked up with whom. That last one was fun to answer.

Again because of our scheduling problem, I can't really tell if we got a callback. The day after our audition, we were asked to send in as much more footage as we could, including our “three best YouTube videos.” I suppose you could call that a callback?

The Los Angeles Audition with Overboard

More scheduling problems prevented Overboard from having a regular audition either. Consulting with Deke and the rest of the production staff, we were allowed to audition with a “stunt bass,” Anthony “Tones” Healy. Tones had sung with Caleb in Ithacappella, and was a natural choice for a sub-in bass. That said, auditioning with a quintet is anything but easy, especially having just graduated from a group that topped out at nineteen people.

The rehearsals for the audition were far more intense than I think any of us were expecting. The musical part wasn't too difficult to get the hang of, but repeated reports coming from our friends and from Deke made us focus more and more on the performance aspect, particularly playing to the cameras. Most importantly, our big thing to work on had to be… well, being big. Five guys in black and white singing doesn't necessarily sound all that huge. As a quintet, we only had a baritone, a tenor, a bass, drums, and a lead to work with, and even when we were arranged to sound big, there's really only so much you can do with three backing parts.

So, we took that as a cue to make our choreography as huge and alternately ridiculous or emotive as possible. Consequently, for one of our tunes (“[If You're Wondering If I Want You To] I Want You To” by Weezer), I ended up being the expressive weirdo running across the stage mime-eating meatloaf and waving my hand in front of a catatonic Tones during the second verse. The other songs were blocked a bit less intensely, with more two-person movements and stage crossing than specific choreography.

Unfortunately, after all that trouble, Overboard didn't receive a callback. It was a little disheartening, to be sure, but all else aside, we went on a two-day trip to Los Angeles.  Through the whole experience with two groups, I learned a whole hell of a lot, particularly by coming at the show from two completely different angles (and levels of preparation, for that matter).

Some General Reflections

For all I'd heard through the grapevine, I was kind of expecting the whole process to be a run-around, frenetic, and pretty disorganized experience. It was quite the contrary.  With the exception of the set snafu in NY, the rest of the process went swimmingly, and was perfectly organized by the time Overboard got out to LA. It's no surprise that a little disorganization came with the auditions, particularly at the start of the process. The Avoca staff was dealing with dozens of groups, many with ten or more members, and they did one hell of a job keeping the whole process running smoothly.

If you were thinking about auditioning this year, and either couldn't put a group together in time, or couldn't make it out to the auditions in any city, here are a few suggestions if you're planning on auditioning for the (possible) next season:

  • -Just singing well is not enough. This isn't SING, BOCA, Voices Only, or the CARAs.  You're auditioning to be on a television show to be seen by millions of people across America. Singing well is a given for this competition. You have to be visually and aurally engaging.

  • -Deke and others have said this first one enough, but I'm going to say it again – play to the camera. It is your friend, and the thing that will get you on the show. The producers and casting agents love being eyeballed, but the cameras are there for a reason.

  • -However big you think your movements are, and however well you think they'll read on camera, you're probably wrong. You have to feel utterly ridiculous for anything you do to read on camera. The personal rock out is great if it's animated, but if you're just bopping along to your part or bouncing the bent left knee, you're just going to look like you're nervous and shaking. If you're going to rock out, ROCK OUT!  If the guy next to you is rocking out and you're not, you're the one that's going to stick out like a sore thumb.

  • -Emote! Never has there been a better way to give a flat performance than to internalize it. Show the camera (note – I didn't say “audience,” see above) what you're feeling, and make it totally clear. Your face should be an open book through the entire audition.

  • -Have fun! Sure, one or even two of your songs might be dark and emotive, but we can hope you get happy sometimes! Even on the sad songs, you've got to look like you're enjoying yourself. If you're not… well, consider a change of career.

What To Look For This Season

I heard some EXCELLENT voices in the halls and in the auditions in both LA and New York. We're in store for some real treats, and while I can't in good conscience (or legally, maybe) tell you who we saw there, or who got a contract, I can say that there's going to be some stiff competition for the few slots the show has. I'll let other groups let the world know when and whether they move on in the process. I will say that two of my personal favorites were: 

•    A blast from the past with a new groove that’s apparently got the locals all abuzz.

•    A certain large group of very percussive and very talented collegiate peoples, who are definitely not terrible at singing.

All else I'm leaving up to the judges and then the voting public. We can look forward to sound being run competently from the start by a certain Ed Boyer, more top-notch Deke Sharon arrangements for group numbers, and maybe some better written monologues and better fitting sweaters for Nick Lachey.

Personal Expectations/Hopes

More skinny jeans. Less [traditional] barbershop. Maybe an octave pedal. Definitely more reggaeton breakdowns.

About the author:
Alex Green is a recent graduate of Tufts University.  He sung with the Amalgamates for his entire college career, and served as Music Director for the 2009 calendar year.  He is currently serving as the Mates' album producer along with Alex Rodman and John Clark.  He recently began singing with Overboard, and runs Function-L Productions, an independent music recording and production company.  Please send him work.  Please.  He can be reached at atothegreen@gmail.com, or on Twitter at @atothegreen.


Great writeup...

But please, no more skinny jeans.  On the planet.  Ever :)

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Joan Hare

Astute observations, Alex.

Astute observations, Alex. And loved your "phone call" into Soup2Nuts.

[=#8040BF]http://www.rarb.org/people/thomas-king.html http://www.deltacappella.com CASA Dir. of Ambassador Program SoJam Producer & Concert Mgr Sing Producer CAL jd All Things A Cappella FOTS #1 ICCA Producer Emeritus "the

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