TV talent shows like American Idol and The Voice went through a bit of a cultural “moment” a few years ago. These shows are somewhat less important now, but they are still very popular.
Similarly, radio talent shows were once a major driver for exposure and even cash. Now, good radio contests are harder to find, but they do still exist.
An artist I play keyboards for signed his first big record deal after winning a contest put on by a radio station.
Basically, these opportunities are out there, and some of them are definitely worthwhile.
So, how can you make the most of a radio/TV talent show appearance?
Whether you’re performing at a local radio station’s talent contest or a major competition, there are things that you can do to ensure you’ve made the most of it.
Be Well Prepared
If you’re doing a talent contest, there is no point in performing at anything less than your absolute best.
Musically, your performance should be airtight. I mean, performances should always be relatively airtight, but at least when you’re playing a whole set you have some leeway to make mistakes.
At most talent contests, you’ll be performing only one song at a time. You need to have it down like the back of your hand, to the point where you can perform it without even thinking or batting an eye.
Beyond simply performing at a high level, you need do everything in your power to ensure you’ll be performing at an optimal level.
That means taking good care of your voice, getting lots of sleep beforehand, exercising, not drinking very much, and not smoking.
Vocal health is somewhat delicate, and again – why would you do anything to jeopardize your very short one-off performance?
Dress The Part
When you’re performing at higher level talent contests, the way you dress really does make a difference.
I recently wrote a post about branding and image, and I cited a study showing that most lay-people can guess which performers would win a contest just based on a silent video.
The way you look does matter. Big contests like American Idol will not hesitate to boot you out of the audition line if you aren’t dressed appropriately.
Settle into a personal style, and then spend a bit of budget on dressing the part. Buy nice clothes and take care of them. Get a good haircut, and make sure you are otherwise well-groomed.
It may seem like a pain to go out of your way to dress in a certain fashion, but you’re basically just trying to make sure that when the judges hear you sing, they are not distracted by the way you look. You don’t want anything to take away from what matters: Your music.
Be Professional, Courteous & Remember Names
Much of this advice is good advice for literally any gig, but it never hurts to reiterate it.
You often see the worst sides of people when you’re watching reality TV, and I don’t know about you, but those are not the people I aspire to be like.
You’ll be remembered as a kind, professional person if you show up on time, treat all of the crew with respect, and as a bonus, use this time to practice remembering names.
Nothing makes an impression like remembering the names of as many people as possible on set.
An artist I play for ingrained in me early on that the first thing to do when walking into a venue is memorize the names of everyone you meet.
He would always test the band on every member of the crew; the FOH and monitor tech, the promoter, the lighting tech, even the people working door, if possible.
Everyone has different ways of remembering people’s names. Some people write them down in a small notebook. My band mate Dylan makes fairly detailed spreadsheets in every city he goes to.
Personally, when I meet somebody new, I introduce myself and then I really think about the other person’s name. I usually draw their name in my mind’s eye. I’ll also repeat their name back to them, and try to use it a few times.
Just consider how you want to be remembered, and make that impression last.
Even if you don’t win, opportunities can still arise from these contests, and you’re way more likely to get an opportunity if people enjoy working with you.
Do Your Best On Social Media
These days, the contest you apply for will almost certainly have a social media component.
It’s important not to get too distracted by the never-ending needs that social media puts on you, but it’s also important to do a good job of promoting yourself.
Post often, make them well thought out, and include a nice picture. Try to do some interesting things on social media (Facebook and Instagram Live are often great for exposure).
The people putting on the contest will appreciate your efforts, and having a good presence will help you build fans off of the contest.
Be Gracious In Your Wins & Losses
The reality is, for whatever reason, you may not win the contests you participate in.
However, you can still make a great impression on the judges and audience if you’re professional, well-dressed, and sing your best.
Being gracious in your wins and losses helps. Congratulate the people that do win, and thank the people that lose for participating.
Overall, just being a nice, level-headed person will put you ahead of the pack.
Perform Your Best
The most important thing to focus on is putting on a great show.
Practice hard and take care of your voice. When you get on stage, forget about everything except performing, and just be yourself.
People can tell when a performance is heartfelt and honest. Try your best to put every bit of yourself into the performance, and make people cry.
If you take this advice to heart, you will make a great impression and have a good experience regardless of winning of losing.
Best of luck!