I recently had to figure out how to go through a musical theatre audition while battling a cold. It's far from the first time I had to do this; in fact, I have a painful memory of auditioning for an arts high school while being sick. Needless to say, I didn't get into that school; but since then, I've thankfully found new ways of at least partially circumventing the symptoms of a cold to give a decently successful audition. While it's never ideal to have to sing while your nose and throat aren't at their best, there are strategies you can use to make it work when necessary!
1. Drink lots of hot tea.
Definitely do this the night before your audition and the morning of, if you have time. Most people add lemon and honey to their tea; the honey soothes your throat. I’ve even sometimes had honey without tea for just a sore throat or lost voice. But the tea is helpful because it can reduce congestion in your nose and throat. If you’re like me, and like your tea with milk, I would recommend only having tea the night before. In general, it’s not great to have dairy right before having to sing, so drinking tea with milk the morning of your audition wouldn’t be a good idea—but the night before wouldn’t cause a problem!
2. Drink a lot of water, too.
This was especially helpful for me while sitting at the audition, while waiting to sing. For one thing, it calmed me down because it was something I could do that was productive and kept my mind off having to try to sing through my cold. Mostly, it’ll feel good. Some people gargle salt water, and this works really well, too, but I just can’t stand the taste!
3. Drink ginger ale.
Ginger ale really effectively clears your throat without having to actively clear your throat, which can actually cause more strain to your vocal cords. I happen to like the taste of ginger ale by itself, but if you don’t, you can mix it with cranberry juice or other juices, and it’ll taste great and have the same effect.
4. Wake up at least 2-3 hours before your audition.
This is a good rule of thumb even for auditions when you’re perfectly healthy. (And for lots of reasons besides your voice, completely unrelated to this article!) When you first wake up, your voice tends to be kind of groggy, and your throat often has mucus as a result of sleeping in a lying-down position. If you wake up two or three hours before your audition, your voice has some time to find normalcy.
5. Warm up!!
This seems pretty obvious, and again, it’s something you should do before any audition when you’ll need to sing. But it’s especially important when you’re sick to get a good warm-up, because you can do damage to your voice if you sing without being warmed up even when you’re healthy, and if you’re pushing more than usual to get through throat congestion, there’s even more risk of hurting your voice. It’s also a great idea to warm up the day before, or maybe even a couple days in advance, to give yourself some practice and to make it easier to warm up on the day of the audition.
6. Abstain from sugar.
Eating a ton of sugary candy might wake you up a little more and get your energy higher, but at least for me, the sugar tends to weigh on my voice and make me uncomfortable.
7. Take a hot shower.
The steam will help decrease congestion, just like drinking hot tea, and it will probably make you feel comfortable.
8. Sing through your song a few times.
Once you’re warmed up, it can be helpful to sing through your song a few times—not just for normal practice or for a refresher on the words or melody, but also to figure out what your strategies are going to be with the added obstacle of a cold. Everything changes when you’re sick, and a different approach than usual might be necessary to sing through it.
9. Wear comfortable clothing, and then change when you arrive if necessary. Or, bring comfortable clothing with you to change into after your audition.
This is something you can do for any audition, but especially when you’re sick, it’s nice to be comfortable for as long as possible. Of course ideally, you want your audition outfit to be something comfortable, but it’s not always possible to have a nice audition outfit that is comfortable for a long time. If you’re planning to wear heels while auditioning, consider wearing sneakers and changing into the heels right before you go into the room, or bringing sneakers to put on after you finish your audition. Bring a sweater even if it’s hot outside—for one thing, it might be heavily air-conditioned in the audition waiting room, and also, if you’re sick, sometimes you have hot and cold spells or get chills. It helps so much with comfort to have a sweater to put on if you suddenly get cold in the middle of the summer due to being sick.
Your body won’t get better unless you let it rest. Most of the time, just taking the time to sleep can go a long way, and it's one of the easiest things you can do to help yourself without medicine of any kind.
11. Forgive yourself for not sounding perfect.
You’re sick; it’s normal not to sound your best or your usual. All you can do is your best in that specific moment, and then move on. Usually the casting directors in the room can hear it in your voice if you’re sick, so most of the time it’s not a great idea to tell them, but if you really feel that it will affect your audition, it’s not the end of the world to mention it. Trust your instincts, depending on the feeling in the room. It’s also totally okay not to be a perfect conversationalist while you’re sick! Just give yourself credit for having gone.
12. Leave extra time to get where you're going.
Often, when you’re sick, your mind is in a weird place, and it might be more difficult to think clearly and figure out where you need to go. You also might be walking more slowly that you usually do.
13. If all else fails, ask to reschedule!
If you’re really, really sick, sometimes it’s just not possible or not worth it to drag yourself to an audition. Your health has to come first, and most of the time it will be possible to reschedule. If it’s not, then you might be missing out on an opportunity, which is always disappointing, but it’s not worth compromising your well-being for one audition. Something else will always come along, usually sooner rather than later. If you just can't make it work this time, then it wasn't meant to be. And the worst someone can say when you ask is no.
I'd love to be able to end by saying that I'm not sick anymore or that I booked a job from that audition. Neither of those things has happened yet, but I have managed to be okay with what happened in the audition room. For better or for worse, it's in the past now!