With 60 years of show-biz experience, jazz and R&B superstar Patti Austin has gained a lot of hard-earned wisdom about singing professionally.
Austin — whose godparents are Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington — began her career in 1954, when she performed at Harlem's Apollo Theater as a 4-year-old. In addition to her string of hits (including "Do You Love Me" and "Baby, Come to Me"), Austin has sung with Michael Jackson, George Benson and Billy Joel, among others. Is it any wonder AARP chose her to judge its Boomer Superstar Contest?
Whether you're about to enter our contest or contemplating a late-life leap into a singing career, take these five tips from Austin to heart — and lips!
1. To beat stage fright, get it right
I've never been afraid to go on stage, but I do get extremely nervous when I feel unprepared. So the first step to not being afraid is: Know your stuff. The better you know your material, the less likely you'll be to walk on stage terrified.
2. Deliver each song *your* way
Know the lyrics, and know what you're singing about. I talk about that a lot in my master classes. I have my students come up and sing their favorite song, then I tweak their performance. That's why giving tips to someone is so individual. I have to see each performer and see what the issues are. In a lot of younger singers, I find no seasoning has taken place.
3. Keep your voice healthy — and ready to perform
The crazy stuff is always simple: Go to sleep! And get some rest! You're wired after you finish performing, so a lot of people hang out late after the performance — that's how they calm down. If you're doing one-nighters, you have to live like a nun: You must be able to say, "Thank you. Good night."
As they say in Bye Bye Birdie, "You gotta be sincere." If you're sincere about [succeeding in] this crazy show business, nothing will surprise you or dissuade you from trying. You get out only what you put in, so the more you put in, the more you'll get out. The more you do it, the more you'll become comfortable with it — and what you're comfortable with, you do well. If you're going to be an entertainer, you also have to be true to yourself.
5. Stay grounded
Know that whatever glory you receive is only temporary — just like life. You can't get too carried away with yourself, because there will always be someone who doesn't know what you've done in the past or doesn't know your name.