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The Superstar Effect, Auditions & Confidence

How to Have Self Esteem...

Imagine this!
You are in an audition or a competition and the person who sings before you is an absolutely remarkable singer? How do you feel?

Do you have the tendency to shrivel? To say to yourself, "Sheesh, why bother singing? Of course, s/he is going to win? What chance do I have?"

I was thinking about this kind of challenge for singers - how to have self-esteem - while reading an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), called The Superstar Effect.

This article is based on the research of Jennifer Brown, an applied macro-economist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University whose research paper is titled, Quitters Never Win: The (Adverse) Incentive Effects of Competing with Superstars.

Here is the main point of the piece by Jonah Lehrer:

"While challenging competitions are supposed to bring out our best, these studies demonstrate that when people are forced to compete against a peer who seems far superior, they often don't rise to the challenge. Instead, they give up."

(Hmmm... Just like we singers, who sometimes feel like giving up in an audition or exam?)

But back to the story...

In her research, Brown used Tiger Woods and the world of golf as an example. She discovered that when Woods is playing well, other golfers who play against him in tournaments, do not play as well as they can. She has numerous statistics to back up her research.

Brown ends her paper by suggesting that her findings may have implications for students - "...there is a potential downside to introducing tournament-style incentives into a classroom setting with a "superstar" pupil. Indeed, my research suggests that one possible outcome of such an introduction is a reduction in the effort of other students..."

How To Have Self Esteem? It's looking difficult...
While Brown is talking about the classroom, I think that we singers can learn a few things from this study, as well. Back up a bit... You are in that audition and the person who sings before you is great. And you feel like quitting.

Remember the Tiger Woods example? The men who played against Woods were professionals who made a lot of money a year playing golf. They trained hard to be in that league. They must have won many tournaments in their careers. And yet even they could feel diminished by the perceived greater worth of another player. So let’s take a creative look at how to have self esteem in this situation with an instructive example from the world of chess...

To Compete Or Not To Compete? - That Is The Question

Here's a true story...An average amateur chess player got paired against his first titled National Master in an important city-wide tournament.

His friend said "Boy, were you unlucky! If you were rated only a few points higher, you would have played an unrated, but instead you are playing the only master in Philadelphia!"

He was right. This was going to be one tough game.

However, that amateur won the game --- roughly a 50-1 long shot! He still uses this example today when telling players not to be afraid of their opponent and just try their best on each move.

He explains he was not playing the National Master. He only focused on finding the best move he could in the time available - (because serious, slow chess is played with a clock) - every time it was his turn to move.


So this chess player strategizes about moving pieces around on a board, while we singers "play" our bodies. How can we use this man's wisdom in the world of singing auditions/competitions? Here's one suggestion: Go to the audition with a unique state of mind.... Decide NOT to compete.

I mean it. Do NOT compete.

Tell yourself that you are not there to beat others. Instead you are there to present yourself in your best light. Step by step, follow through on all the things that you wanted to accomplish in the audition - from how you walk into the room, to how you complete your final phrase. If you attend carefully to all those performance details, you will be successful whether or not you “win.”

And you will leave your best impression with the judges who will remember you next time, even if you do not take the prize this time.


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