What are those adjudicators thinking? Don’t you wish you knew? Well, I can give you a good idea. First of all, they’re human and frequently distracted. If they yawn, they may be thinking, “I really need another cup of coffee,” or, “These things are always so long. I wonder what time it is.” But if you’re lucky, they may be thinking, “I love hearing new people. Let’s see what this one has to offer.” And that may very well be the case. These are teachers, agents or conductors who truly enjoy singers and vocal music.
If you’re listening in on their thoughts you may also hear, “What in the world was he thinking, singing that piece. He’s not ready for it. I wish I could hear him sing something he’s good at.” Or perhaps, “She sings it pretty well, but I can’t see her doing that part.” So always sing what suits you.
If you seem a little “green” and inexperienced, that’s not the end of the world. But do thank the judges and be pleasant and appreciative to your accompanist. This will not go unnoticed. Opera managers have been known to ask the stage manager just how singers behaved backstage. Snooty prima donnas who can only appear nice onstage are cut.
Excuses and complaints will not be appreciated. If you have a cold and want to sing anyway, don’t tell them about it unless they ask.
What to Wear
The visual impression you make can be very important, so think carefully about your clothing. What you wear can telegraph a message you are unaware of, like: “I really don’t know anything about the world of opera,” or “I don’t care what you think of me.” The last thing you want to do is offend them!
Let’s start with what is expected at something like the district NATS auditions. At this level you are learning all about singing for judges, including the unspoken rules about attire. Judges may write comments about your clothing because it’s an opportunity for you to learn what is expected.
One thing to always keep in mind is that what you wear should show respect for the person listening. This is not the time to “make a statement” or to “be edgy” or “look really hot.” Don’t try to be noticed by wearing an extreme or bizarre outfit. If people can only think “That’s outrageous/punk/ugly” the whole time you’re singing, that’s all they’ll remember about you. This is like a job interview, and you should be demonstrating that you respect the auditioner and appreciate their time.
In general, judges absolutely do not want to see:
- Your tattoos
- Clothing with words
- Tennis shoes
- “Goth” makeup
- Belly button
- Piercings (More than one per ear)
Men should think in terms of dress pants with a button-down shirt and a tie. Jacket is optional. Closed-toe dress shoes, not sandals. When auditioning for an opera company or conductor you should wear that jacket.
Ladies, since you have so many style choices, you can go wrong in many more ways. Ideally you should choose a dress no shorter than 2 inches above the knee. Pantyhose are preferable to bare legs and leggings are out. Heels look nice but don’t go too high, especially if you’re not very comfortable walking in them. Don’t show too much skin, like spaghetti straps. Some singers feel that looking sexy will get the judges’ attention, but judges can be very turned off by it, perhaps even offended that you would try it. You want to go for elegant and sophisticated.
Formal wear is appropriate for some elite competitions. Basically, if it’s the finals of something like the Metropolitan Auditions or if it happens in the evening in a concert hall with an audience, a tuxedo or gown is probably expected. Ladies, you can go one degree more revealing, like a V-neck or leg slit.