Talent shows are a dime a dozen. But I would be lying if I said they haven’t had a massive impact on my music career.
The reason I decided to get into music in the first place was because the rush I felt performing live.
And, the first time I ever performed in front of an audience was at a talent show at youth camp.
Now, sometimes there is something at stake when you perform at talent shows. There might be prizes or money to be won.
Other times the only thing to do is perform for your participation medal, trophy or certificate.
Either way, it can be gratifying to play for an audience as they clap and cheer you on.
So, if you’re looking to make an impression at a forthcoming talent show, here are some talent show ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
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Incorporate Some Dance Moves Into Your Performance
There’s a good chance you’ll only get to perform one song at a talent show (you may have even less stage time if it’s a gong show). So, you may as well make the most of the opportunity.
Pulling off a great song might get you a few cheers. But what would be even more impressive is throwing some dance moves into the mix.
You could have a section of the song where everybody in the band starts dancing “Gangnam Style”.
Or, you could have the drummer and bass player hold down the beat while the rest of the band moves to the front of the stage to breakdance.
There are plenty of creative ways to pull it off. The point is that it’s going to require some planning and practice, especially if you aren’t good at dancing already.
I would suggest keeping it simple. Make it easy for the audience to dance along if they feel so inclined. Crowd participation will increase your chances of getting a higher rating from the judges.
Play A Medley
Here's a good talent show idea.
You could go on stage and play one of your original numbers. If the audience is familiar with it and you can stimulate crowd participation, you might do okay.
But you’ll probably do even better if you pull out some crowd pleasers. And, what better way to do this than to arrange a medley?
A medley is essentially a number that segues from one song into another. Stringing together a bunch of hits is sure to get the audience’s attention.
My suggestion would be to choose a decade and put together a list of popular songs. It could be the 80s, 90s, 00s or otherwise.
Older is okay if the audience is older. Newer is okay if the audience is particularly young. But you should probably stick to the range already suggested for broad appeal.
I’ve speculated on this a while, but I think a 90s medley would be relatively easy to put together because there are so many songs from the decade that follow a similar chord progression.
For example, here are a few songs that would go well together:
- Sugar Ray – “Fly”
- Madonna – “Ray of Light”
- Weezer – “Undone – The Sweater Song”
- Matchbox Twenty – “3 AM”
- Chumbawamba – “Tubthumping”
- And so on.
Use A Looper
Loopers are relatively popular these days. But that doesn’t mean their novelty has completely worn off.
With a looper, even as a solo artist, you can build an impressive backing beat on stage, layer by layer.
I have friends, like Hello Moth, that make effective use of a looper pedal. And, because they are masters of the artform, they pull it off with a lot of grace.
They make something hard look easy.
Again, with a talent show, you’re probably going to be betting on the strength of one song.
So, while in preparation for the event, practice hard and come prepared to build your backing track in front of the audience.
Sing over it, play over it, add variations and make the performance as dynamic as possible.
If you hit all the right notes, the audience and judges should be impressed.
Invite Special Guests On Stage
In the professional touring world, a lot of what appears to be spontaneous is planned out to the last detail, suggesting that if you’re going to pull this off well, you’re going to need to practice.
But let’s say, for example, that you’re performing at a talent show in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, which is Bryan Adams’ hometown.
You happen to know Bryan Adams and he agrees to perform with you on stage (I know it sounds far-fetched – just go with it for now).
Now, you could just go on stage with Adams and blow away the audience. But you can surprise and shock audiences even more by introducing him in the middle of your song.
See how this could work?
You may not be able to get in touch with Adams’ management, but hey, maybe there’s a local star you could call upon to wow audiences.
This idea might be a bit of a “cheat” but talent shows are all about novelty anyway, so it shouldn't backfire.
I’ve also been to performances where a musician was performing on stage and suddenly someone in the crowd started joining in with the song, singing and playing their instrument. Then, they proceeded on stage, joining the other performer.
Honestly, I think this is kind of tricky to pull off. When the additional performer joins in, it can leave the audience confused and disoriented.
By the time they’ve joined the other performer on stage, you already know they were “planted”. So, that makes the moment less authentic.
Still, the surprise factor can sometimes work to your advantage. And, if you do it well, it can be effective. How's that for a talent show idea?
Wear Ridiculous Costumes On Stage
If you just can’t think of anything else or you’re all out of ideas, try wearing a crazy costume on stage.
It’s simple and silly, but it can give you a presence on stage, which can be hard to achieve with moving around a lot while performing.
You certainly wouldn’t catch Parliament Funkadelic on stage without their colorful and goofy getups. Now, to be fair, this is part and parcel of funk music.
But then again, you also have examples like KISS, Lady Gaga, Slipknot and so on. And, it’s worked out quite well for them.
Costumes and makeup have a way of becoming a part of a band’s brand. So, it’s worth putting some thought into your image before you’re forced to wear something you don’t want to night after night.
But as I said, if you’re fresh out of ideas and you don’t have any other discernable talents, then consider wearing costumes and/or makeup on stage.
Take Advantage Of Tech
Now, I don’t know what talent show you’re going to be performing at, how much time you’ll have to prepare or if you’ll have the opportunity to set up the stage before you perform.
But assuming you have the time and resources to do it, you can turn your otherwise ordinary live performance into a visual masterpiece.
As with wearing ridiculous costumes, this is kind of the “easy way out”. I’m not saying it won’t take work, but it puts the onus on your gear to make your show interesting. It would be less dependent on you.
Okay, so what are we talking about?
Lights, smoke machines, video projectors and so on.
I’ve often heard techs say a good light show can make a boring performance far more interesting and I tend to agree.
I would even say that if a band doesn’t move around much on stage and doesn’t have good lighting, their show might be kind of boring.
Even if you can’t afford a lot of crazy tech, I’m sure you could figure out creative ways of incorporating more visual elements into your show.
For example, maybe you could round up a bunch of old CRT monitors, place them strategically on stage and have them playing interesting videos.
This is a chance for you to geek out and have fun with different tech. So, make that part of your esthetic if it fits with your brand.
Call Upon Other Talent
Once again, this is kind of the “easy way out” when it comes to putting on a good performance at a talent show.
There’s no shame in calling on other talent to spice up the visual appeal of your live show, especially if there are other things (like dancing) you just can’t see yourself pulling off.
You could bring in dancers, clowns, gymnasts or acrobats, magicians, jugglers or otherwise – whatever fits with your brand and would add to the visual appeal.
There might be people like that at the talent show already. But if you combine music with these other artforms, you can appeal to a wider audience.
And, if you can insert yourself into the magic tricks, juggling or other acts, even in some small way, you’ll leverage the talent to the fullest.
Just remember to make the special talent part of the show instead of using them in isolation.
Parody Well-Known Artists
People love to laugh. If you can make them laugh, not only will you leave a lasting impression on them, you’ll also score a better rating at the talent show.
There is some precedent to suggest that parodies can do well. Just think of “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Now, “Weird Al” isn’t just weird, he’s also talented. That’s one of the reasons he’s had such a long-lasting career.
But he is unquestionably the king of parodies. So, if you want to figure out how to parody one of your favorite artists or songs, you should follow his example.
I think Yankovic genuinely likes most of the songs he parodies, and he pays tribute to them as much as he makes fun of them. That’s why his template works.
When parodying other artists, I would suggest that it’s best not to outright insult them. You want to honor them while finding humor in their work.
Involve The Audience In Your Performance
Here’s another “cheat” or hack if there ever was one.
Involving your audience is a surefire way to command more attention and applause for your performance. It’s getting them involved that’s the tricky part.
But here are a few ideas.
One, you could throw some T-shirts and other merch into the audience. Who doesn’t like free stuff? And, I’ve seen Styx do this before.
Two, you could have audience members come up and take over the vocal or guitar part. Of course, you might want to use “plants” so you can call upon people who are talented enough to make this work.
Three, you could start a call and response. This can be incredibly cheesy and sometimes patronizing. But if it’s right for the audience, it will go over splendidly.
Those are just a few possibilities. If you’re thinking about going this direction, then come up with a few of your own.
Rotate Your Band Members Through Different Instruments
Ok, so let's get some inspiration from others and see what ideas they have for talent shows.
At his live shows, Kid Rock is known to cycle through the various instruments on stage. And, he’s no slouch at any of them either.
He’ll scratch it up on the turntables. He’ll pick up a guitar and riff along. He’ll pound out a beat on the drums.
It’s impressive and fun to watch.
The “real” way to win any talent show is to be darn good at what you do. If your band is legitimately talented, you might be able to pull off a similar feat.
Look, I’m not saying it would be easy. Far from it. But it would make your performance more exciting.
Maybe you can play guitar, banjo, ukulele and mandolin. Great. Maybe you could figure out a way to incorporate all those instruments in one song.
Perhaps you have a saxophone player that can also play a wide selection of woodwind instruments.
It’s called a “talent show”, after all, so if there’s a way to show off exactly how talented you are, you should do better in the standings.
Fool The Audience & Create Contrast
Have a listen to Collective Soul’s “Simple”.
You’ll notice that the intro is significantly different from the rest of the song. It’s basically Collective Soul’s failed attempt at jamming out a James Brown style funk groove (in their own words).
But then the song picks up. The cool guitar riff kicks in and you know this is going to be a killer song.
In much the same way, if you can make the audience believe that you’re utterly “failing” on stage and suddenly kick into a barnburner. The contrast can make people stand up and take notice.
Maybe you could have your band pound out some lame beats for 30 seconds. Maybe you could have all band members start off on the wrong instruments. Or, maybe you could have your “replacements” performing on stage until you come along to save them.
The idea is to come off as complete amateurs and then blow everyone’s minds. The greater the contrast (i.e. the better you are as a band), the greater the impact this will have on the audience and judges.
Again, this is a relatively easy way to impress audiences without a lot of preparation and outside the box thinking.
Have Fun & Be Weird
Have you ever watched the The Aristocrats perform?
The trio comprised of the incredibly talented Guthrie Govan, Marco Minnemann and Bryan Beller.
Now, if you’re a music geek, it’s plenty of fun to watch them perform. But they’re not afraid to appeal to novel sensibilities either.
In their bizarrely named and odd sounding song, “Erotic Cakes”, there’s a section where they pull out their smartphones and use an app to make strange noises with them.
They even pull out rubber chickens and use them in the performance too. Have a look for yourself:
You simply can’t help but laugh. It endears the band to the audience.
You don’t necessarily need to follow The Aristocrats’ example. You can find other ways of making your performance more interesting
Maybe you could gather up a bunch of pots and pans and use them as “percussion” for a part of the song.
Being weird can pay off if you don’t completely jump the shark.
Creative Talent Show Ideas For Musicians, Final Thoughts
And that's all of out creative talent show ideas.
Although some artists put a lot of stock into talent shows, songwriting competitions, battle of the bands and other similar events, I honestly think it’s rare to perform at one that’s judged fairly or leads to other opportunities.
Bottom line – you should have fun at talent shows.
That’s what they’re about.
That’s why people are going to attend.
That’s why the judges are going to be there – to witness artists fail and succeed spectacularly.
Do you have any other ideas for talent competitions?
Let us know below.