This was a very juicy week for Lessons from American Idol!
The first 2 lessons were pretty clearly expressed by Usher in his role as mentor. I have to say, I think Usher is my favorite American Idol Mentor so far! He wasn’t just interested in the arrangement, he really gave the Contestants constructive and immediately applicable lessons for their performance as well.
Lesson 1: Projecting Your Energy is Everything
This principle came up with almost every single contestant, in different ways. But basically, Usher was talking about projecting your energy in the performance so that you are connecting with your audience and your audience could connect with you. He talked about projecting your energy to the last row or to the person behind the lens of the camera, so that the individual person feels you. I think that when the judges are talking about pushing, this is often what they’re talking about. It’s not about projecting your vocals – although, that happens naturally as a result of this technique. It’s about making the person at the back of the room a real and specific person. The person you’re talking to with your song. Miley talked about making eye contact with individuals and it’s the same kind of thing, only using your energy. It was interesting to me, in Mike’s performance, because he often had his eyes closed – and yet the judges felt, and I agree that he connected with us much more specifically than he had in the past.
There are two aspects to this technique. The first is to be specific about who you’re talking to and what you’re saying in the song – not just the words, but the intention behind the words. And the second is taking the time in the song to be present with your audience. To reach out to them energetically. To connect to them as if each individual is the ONLY person you’re singing to. We’ve all had that experience in the audience – as if the performer is singing only to me. Specifically to me. That’s what happens when a performer is masterful with this. I remember seeing Peter Gabriel on the “So” tour. I was on like the third tier above the floor. But when he sang, In Your Eyes, he was singing to me, and only me.
This requires doing your homework. It takes working with a song until you know it and don’t have to think about the chords, or the lyrics or the melody lines. It means deciding who you’re singing to and why. And then practicing that part along with the performance part. If you really do your homework, then when you’re on stage, you can allow yourself to be in the moment. In dance it’s called muscle memory. In acting, it’s called making your choices and doing your back story and knowing it well enough that you can let it all go and just be in the moment in the scene. It’s the same in music. Know it well enough and thoroughly enough that you can let it all go and be in the moment on stage (or in the recording studio).
I actually heard Steven Memel tell a musician to practice his songs in the closet in the dark – so he wouldn’t have to look at the guitar. That’s exactly it – get so good at it that you can do it in the dark. So you can let go and connect with your audience and the song in the moment.
Lesson 2: If You Don’t Believe It, They Won’t Either
Usher said this to Lee DeWyze, when Lee admitted that he didn’t believe in himself. Whatever Usher said to Lee, made an amazing difference in his performance, right? All of a sudden, Lee was really standing in his body. He was connecting with the song and with the audience. And his vocal was so strong and sweet and sexy. It’s like he decided to fully step into himself as a performing artist. And now it’s all fallen into place.It’s really simple. But it’s not easy. Until it is. We all know that it’s important to believe in ourselves, right? That confidence is king.
“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!”Henry Ford
But how, exactly did Lee make that shift? From over here, it looks like he just flipped a switch, right? It seems so mysterious when you’re not there. How do you get there? It’s simple. But it’s not easy. Until it is.
This is one of my favorite things to work on with private clients. Using NLP, reframing, hypnosis and other techniques, I can help you make that shift and it will feel just like flipping the switch. In fact, it can be so profound that once the switch has been flipped, you won’t even be able remember what it was like in the dark. The results are magical!
But if you’re working on your own, without a coach, the best way to improve on this is to shift your focus. Instead of focusing on yourself, and whether you’re going to fail, or what people are thinking about you or how uncomfortable you’re feeling right now…
Focus on what we covered in Lesson 1. And this leads me to Lesson 3:
Lesson 3: How to Express the Emotion Without Being Taken Over by the Emotion
Here’s the conundrum – we, as your audience want to feel the emotion of the song – and we can’t feel it if you don’t connect. But if you feel your emotions fully when on stage, it can become counterproductive. Nerves and fear affect the breath and lack of breath seriously affects the vocal quality, including projection, pitch, and the ability to sustain a note. We’ve seen it over and over with Didi Benami – and I think its what finally did her in this week – her emotions got in the way of her performance.
So, how do you create emotion with your performance without being overtaken by emotion? Well, the secret isn’t in feeling the emotions; it’s in connection and control. If you’ve really done your homework (lesson 1) and you can now let go in this moment and connect with your audience, and your intention and attention is on your audience (not on yourself), you will find that you fully connect with your audience and we will experience the emotion of the song. If you are focusing on “feeling” the song, you’re attention and intention are internally focused – you won’t connect and neither will we.
This is the same whether the emotion your feeling has to do with the song (either it’s very personal or has personal connotations for you) or with the performance (nerves, anxiety, stage fright or the desire to win the contest!). So stop being self-indulgent when it comes to your emotions on stage – focus on the audience. That’s where it counts.
How will you build your confidence this week? How will you connect? Share your comments!