So, how does one choose the right repertoire?
1. You do NOT get points for trying, meaning: Always choose a song completely within your ability level. It will not show you off to your best advantage if you attempt to sing something that is too hard for you. This does not mean that you can’t give yourself a challenge. But there are doable, achievable challenges and then there are just plain dumb risks to take at your own peril. My motto is quality over quantity. A beautifully sung “easy” song is far better than a badly sung “hard” one. I know how tempting it is, I do, first hand. And I can tell you, it hardly ever ends well. Believe me, I know.
Keep in mind, unless the piece you are auditioning for requires it, not every audition song has to show how high you can sing and/or belt. (FYI: shouting is NOT belting.)
2. When auditioning for a specific show, choose a piece in the style and from the general era of the show. Unless they specifically ask for it, you should never sing a song from the show that you are auditioning for. Since most composers have multiple shows and songs to choose from, you can always find a similar song. But the same composer is not always necessary. But do get the era right. Don’t sing something from Oklahoma!for Rent or something from Wicked for Annie Get Your Gun.
3. Consider the general mood of the show and the specific character(s) you are interested in playing. If you want to be the ingénue, don’t sing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (don’t sing that anyway…unless you’re at least 45!). If you want to be the villain, perhaps “Younger than Springtime” is not the perfect choice. If the show is generally fun and comic, probably an uptempo song is your best bet. Singing a “Debbie Downer” song will not help the auditioner imagine you in the show. Conversely, if you are auditioning for, say, Next to Normal, perhaps you should strongly consider a serious contemporary ballad.
*However, if you are also required to do a monologue, you might consider having the song and monologue being contrasting in feel/tempo.
My final caveat: if you don’t have enough time to prepare “the perfect song” for a specific audition, sing what you sing best and let the chips fall where they may. (Unless it’s totally wrong…ie: if all you have is rock/pop, perhaps My Fair Lady is not your thing or, if you’re like me and attempting to sing something pop/rock is like speaking Chinese, I would recommend bypassing anything by Jonathan Larson.) It’s great when everything lines up just so, but let’s face it, sometimes we have to go with what we have ready and hope for the best. Besides, good singing is good singing. To me, being prepared, polished and comfortable with your material is better than throwing something together at the last moment. Not only will you do better in general, you aren’t likely to be quite as nervous.