Recently I attended the Chicago regionals of Harmony Sweepstakes, an a cappella competition similar to regionals on Glee, but with more groups competing to attend nationals in San Francisco. Only the winning group in each of eight regions goes (and wins other prizes, at least in Chicago), but the second and third receive a few prizes. A lot was on the line in each 10 minute performance.
Though anyone who’s watched American Idol knows you don’t have to win to have a successful career (runner up Clay Aiken, for example, went on to perform in Spamalot on Broadway and sold out tours, has a bestselling book, etc.), competing in the national finals was the goal.
As a guest of a judge, I decided to play judge, too, though I didn’t have the benefit of the score sheet. I’ve been a fan of a cappella for years, have sung a bit, and watched the sing-off, so I’m somewhat familiar with contemporary styles and critiques.
I couldn’t decide between Rooftop Rhythm or Breath of Soul. Barbershop quartet RR brought such infectious energy and a great sound, to my ears. But I wasn’t sure if traditional barbershop could prevail in today’s world of contemporary songs, mashups and beat boxing. It could.
In post-performance analysis, my friend and I agreed that a couple of the groups had pitch problems. Maybe they were right on in other performances or even 5 minutes before going on stage, but when it counted, they weren’t. We analyzed the importance of energy and presentation. What sounds amazing and what constitutes great presentation is in the ear and eye of the beholder…or in this case, those of the five judges. Given the amount of choreography on the sing-off, I expected to see some, but there wasn’t much.
Lessons learned: When the pressure’s on in any career, from an audition to job interview to presentation, you have to find a way to bring your best. Because some events in life are a competition, you are being judged. In some cases, the winner takes all. In others, consolation prizes may pay off in the future. If you did a great job but just didn’t have a high enough score to win/book the gig, someone may take note. Tty to learn your audience’s expectations, and meet or exceed them.