What does an audience want? I think it boils down to five basic needs:
First: Be yourself.
Ultimately, the whole point of singing is to express who you are, your emotions, your personality, what YOU have to say to the audience. Believe me, you are interesting enough and how you approach a song will be of merit if it is truly coming from you.
Second: Entertain us.
Basically, know why you are singing to us. If it is to make us laugh, go for it. If it is to move us, please do so. But if you are up there simply singing for yourself and you forget that there are other people in the room, that’s frankly not too many people’s idea of a good time. Keep the audience’s needs in mind while you are up there. By all means entertain yourself as well; just don’t leave the rest of us out.
Third: Be good.
Perform when you are ready to perform. Do your homework, be prepared and in great shape with what you are about to present. It’s not fair to anyone to watch a performer who doesn’t know what he or she is doing and thus can’t give his or her best performance.
Fourth: Have fun.
The more fun you are having, the more that will telegraph to the audience. You can be nervous, that’s natural. But if you are not enjoying yourself, take some private time and evaluate what needs to change in order for singing to be the best time you can imagine within your day.
And finally: Don’t apologize.
NO MATTER WHAT!!!!!!!! It is usually unnecessary, it makes people nervous and it is neither you being yourself, entertaining us, being good or having fun! Just don’t do it. If something is going wrong, you may need to ad lib or even halt the show, but make it funny and make it human. I saw the first preview of the Broadway show Love! Valour! Compassion! It begins with a beautiful tableau of the entire cast looking out at the audience. As the house lights remained on and no one was moving, it finally became apparent that something was very wrong. Nathan Lane (of Lion King and The Producers fame) just started talking to the audience, “So, how are you? Anybody seen Lion King?” As everyone started laughing, the stage manager came out and whispered to the cast. Nathan Lane then said, “OK, let’s make believe this never happened and start again.” Which we did and they did. And the show continued with everyone feeling great. So like I said, if something is not going right, don’t make it a problem. The audience needs to always feel that they are in safe and confident hands. That’s your job to do.
Of Course You Can Sing! is an entertaining new book devoted to helping undo years of unsupportive thoughts focusing on the fact that, no matter what anyone has ever told you, you can sing. From beginner orientation to professional advice, this book shows how to overcome shyness and get rid of the negative voices as well as how to nail an audition from someone who has been both on stage and behind the scenes.
Michelle Cohen is a professional actress and singer (member of Actor’s Equity) with an extensive background in musical theatre, and a highly sought after producer/director/coach having produced the Off-Broadway musical hit Schoolhouse Rock Live! She trained both in the US (graduating from Sarah Lawrence College) and in London (The British American Drama Academy). She has taught singing privately for over ten years and at several acting schools, including NYU.