I’m a singing reality show fan. It started with American Idol when it first came out but now I watch whichever show happens to be on: The Voice, The X Factor, America’s Got Talent…. I’m not fussy. What I LOVE about these shows is that I get the privilege of witnessing someone’s life being irrevocably changed. Unknowns are plucked from obscurity and are given sound advice, training, a make-over and the opportunity to shine. Whether they go on to become a household name in music or not, that raw talent is hewn and polished and molded into something more.
To be absolutely clear... ALL of these contestants already know how to SING. But not all of them know how to front a song with authority or move about the stage with a story to tell.
As a voice teacher and professional vocal coach, I am always interested to note how often a poor choice of material is ultimately the undoing of these performers. Perfectly talented and capable singers are “voted off the island” because of a bad song choice that did not highlight their talent or showcase their voice to its fullest potential. So what constitutes a great song choice? Most of us will never appear on one of these shows but may have to stand up in a bar and belt out a karaoke song or serenade friends at a family wedding, birthday or anniversary. How do we choose a song that suits our voice?
For starters, pick a song that resides in a range that is ideal for your voice. All of the notes in the song should be comfortable to sing. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have to work for a note or be lazy about it but all of the notes should easily fit within your vocal range. Second, the “character” singing the song should match who you are or what you can relate to. For example, a 15 year old should not sing a song like “My Way” as there simply isn’t enough life experience for someone that young to draw on to realistically pull off the subject matter. Likewise, a 60 year old shouldn’t attempt a Justin Beiber song about first love…. It just comes off as odd. Third, do NOT choose a song that is a signature song of a famous artist unless you can pull off the vocal gymnastics the original artist did with ease. The audience will expect to hear the song exactly like they have heard the artist do it so many times before and unless you can pull it off, it will only set you up for failure. The only exception to this rule is if you are doing something dramatically different stylistically to the original version of the son. Lastly, it is imperative that you fully understand the words and the emotion of the song you are singing. If you have never known heartache, don’t try and sing about it… if you are a born pessimist; don’t try and pull off "Walking on Sunshine". You need to fully CONNECT with the material on a personal level in order to communicate the song with your audience.
There are thousands of songs out there to choose from. Take the time to pick ones that feature your vocal assets and that you will have fun sharing. Put the work in to practice it until you can "sing it in your sleep", then just go out and enjoy the experience.