What I Learned from Auditioning for an A Cappella Group

A Guide to Becoming Unembarrassable and the Danger of Inner Rings

It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday.

I’m outside a classroom. I hear the cheering loud noises from a group of young male adults. If I was an alien or didn’t know what frats were like, I would’ve thought they were a group of starving chimpanzees.

The noises suddenly stop and I hear, “Guys, let’s welcome JUUUUANNN DAVIDDDDD.”

“Shit. It’s my turn now.”

I fist-bumped my fellow auditioners outside the classroom, and they all wished me good luck.

One of the guys from inside came out and delicately opened the door. It was modest, but it opened just enough for me to squeeze in and enter the classroom. The same classroom all of us waiting outside desperately wanted to get into.

It's not that they couldn't swing the door wide open. The way they opened it was the cruelest metaphor for what groups are like: always hard to enter, as if the fierce difficulty and mimetic desire to get in were what gave it all meaning.

As if….exclusion was a feature, not a bug.

As if…the “we had many talented applicants, but I regret to inform you…” emails or calls were a pretext for the human satisfaction of depriving others of pleasure.

As if…exclusion was its essence.

“I’m finally inside,” I tell myself.

I’m standing up in front of a half-circle of twenty guys. They’re sitting down. They’re all looking at me. They’re all making noises in unison. They’re all drumming on their desks.

I stand with my toes pointing forward, keeping my legs and back straight. Placing my fists on my hips, I look at every single one of them in the eyes, as if I knew their deepest darkest secrets. And once they wondered whether I knew their deepest darkest secrets, I doubled down with a smirk and an even more intense look to leave no doubt I knew their deepest darkest secrets.

I, of course, don’t know my deepest darkest secrets. Let alone, people I’ve never seen in my life.

Finally, a leader emerges among them and with a deep voice says, “Whenever you are ready, sing the song you have prepared for your audition.”

I did not prepare a song in advance.

I do not know the lyrics of any song.

I do not know how to spell “a capella” or know what it is besides remembering Pitch Perfect was about fat Amy bringing the fat beats.

Aca-scuse me?!

But how and why did I choose to audition for something I clearly don’t know or care about?

For that, you and I will need to go back a few days.

Sandwich Your Way Into Anything

It’s the first week of a new semester in college. As usual, I don’t register for my classes until the last day.

The first two weeks are a search for the curious unknown. I aim to find the things I didn’t know I needed or wanted to learn.

On any given day, I oscillate from attending a class on the Legends of King Arthur and Cancer Nanotechnology to American Economic History and Rocket Propulsion.

What I long for is the professor’s genuine and intrinsic excitement. I don’t always succeed. But occasionally I do, and when I do, it’s pure bliss.

This isn’t the type of longing a hopeless and lonely romantic might be known for. Rather, it was the reason my friend and I developed a website to find any classes we wanted allowing us to search by building, time, and professor.

I don’t follow a curriculum or care about what I’m “supposed” to be learning because I know the map is not the territory.

I let myself wander. I let myself get lost.

But that’s exactly when the buzzer shatters the air just as the basketball leaves the fingertips and descends to the rim. One bound, two bounces, and finally the ball arrives swiftly.

It was one of these wandering days when I saw a flyer about an a cappella audition. My friend has tried out a few times without success.

“Maybe, this is the one for him.” I snapped a picture and texted it to him right away.

The day of the audition arrives, and we’re eating lunch together. I told him I’d come to watch but he isn’t sure whether I’d be able to. But within me, I knew that was a white and noble cap as he probably didn’t want to get distracted by me.

It’s 6:00 p.m., and it’s about time for him to audition. I texted him, “Good luck with the audition” intending to find out whether he was coming.

Keep in mind he does not know another friend of ours and I are there waiting for him.

While we were waiting for our friend, the a cappella people came out of the room and asked, “Are you here for the audition?”

I did not hesitate and quickly said, “Yeah, dude. Where do I sign up?”

Me knowing me, I need little to no encouragement to do anything that could embarrass me. This wouldn’t be the first time, nor the second.

I filled out the sheet of paper with information about my zero years of musical experience.

But then it hit me.

In addition to the thrill I'd experience from auditioning, going first could greatly improve my friend's chances of getting in.


We are to going sandwich my friend into this a capella group.

When I go, there will be a steep decline. Just after, my friend arises from the ashes I left and blows them away. To ensure our friend's singing quality is noted, the next friend goes and introduces another steep decline, leaving our friend at the top.

Our friend is undeniably skilled, but let's just say we highlighted his talent.

Guess what? After a few semesters of auditions, this audition was the one. HE FINALLY GOT IN!!!

Our sandwich strategy is fully thought out, and it's about to be implemented when I start to hear my name.

Bold as Love

Me: What do you mean by “prepared song”?

Them: Did you prepare a song for your audition? We told everyone to prepare a song. Did you not read the instructions?

Me: Oh, yeah. I did prepare a song. I thought you were referring to something else (I did not prepare anything).

Them: Uhumm

Me: (What song should I sing? GOSH!!! Oh, I have one. Bold as Love by Jimi Hendrix. I loaded up the lyrics on YouTube and got ready).

Them: Do you have a song?

Me: Yeah. Give me one sec.

Them: Ok

I clear my throat and adjust my glasses.

I start with a scream that goes, “ANGERRRRR!!!!!”

Anger! He smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armor Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground Blue are the life-giving waters taken for granted They quietly understand Once happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready But wonder why the fight is on But they're all bold as love Yes, they're all bold as love Yeah, they're all bold as love Just ask the axis

I could not follow the lyrics and missed a few words, but I made this classroom my stage and sang my heart out.

I chose Bold as Love by Jimi Hendrix because it was uniquely weird. I’m sure no one had auditioned with a Jimi Hendrix song ever. By the way, if you haven’t listened to it, please do.

This song was a horrendous choice. It does not have a melody, and if that wasn’t enough, it’s incredibly hard to follow along. But I love this song!

50 seconds passed, and I finished.

It took the twenty guys a few moments to process what they just saw. But after looking at each other, they smiled and started clapping. Besides being great singers, they’re also talented actors as I would not have been able to keep it together as well as they did.

Onto the next part of the audition: the musical keyboard.

They play notes and you’re supposed to follow. This is how they test your range how low and how high your voice can go.

Ahhh... Ahhh... Ahhh...

I chase the rising notes, my voice scaling higher, sounding more strained...yet still I climb.


The mortifying squeak that erupts from my throat is anything but musical. I clench my teeth as the last shreds of my dignity vanish. The accompanist slams both hands over the keys, unable to suppress a laugh.

My vocal range is more crack than crescendo.

And crescendo the audition goes!

"Do you want to try sight-reading?" they asked.

I have no idea what this is, but I said, "Let's do it."

They hand me a sheet with musical notes, and they start playing the keyboard. I stay quiet.

And suddenly, it came to me. "Wait, I'm supposed to read and sing from the sheet music."

"Yeah, guys. I don't know how to read this." Initially, I thought it was a vision test similar to the one you do at the DMV.

Awkward, but we move along.

Everyone gets up to make a circle. We all sing together. Gradually, they take people out to see how my voice fits with the group.

After a few minutes, we do more exercises, and everything stops for ten seconds.

Someone cuts the music and a booming voice officially kicks off the following activity.

"Ladies and gentlemen...WELCOME to the annual ERASER THROW COMPETITION!"

“Oh yeah, here we go again. What now?”

The twenty guys scream as if their team just won the Super Bowl.

I kid you not. This is all in unison.

They draw a “dartboard” on the chalkboard. I pick a guy out of the group and you compete with him throwing the eraser.

I loved the competition and won. But when I asked the other guys, every auditioner also won.

This seems more of a way to lighten up the whole thing and make you feel good before they start the interrogation process.

They all settle back into the half-circle of expressionless faces.

I’m sitting in front of every single one of them.

Interrogation begins:

I clear my throat, unsettled by their unwavering gaze. “Well, I...I thought it would be cool.”

"I, uh, can offer my voice?..." But then, I said, “I’m the best distribution person at UIUC.”

"Um, no...no questions..."

And then, a rapid-fire set of questions:

At this point, everyone is hypnotized. Every individual utters words in perfect harmony, their movements synchronized as if engaged in a mesmerizing ritual.

I mumble meaningless sounds until the final words echo as one:

"We thank you for auditioning with us…"

I sighed. I thanked them. I got up, and for the love of my life, left this inner ring.

Takeaways: Adrenaline, Group Dynamics, and Clark Kent

3 missed calls. 1 voice message.

I auditioned. My friend made it.

But did I make it?

They called me later that day. But let’s say I was already sleeping.

They called me three times.

Then…they left a voice message.

It’s been two days, and I have not listened to it.

Did I make it? I have no idea until the very moment I’m writing this.

Let me pull out my phone and listen to the voice message. They have not called me again so that probably means…

“We wanted to let you know that we’re really thankful and grateful you came out to audition for us. But unfortunately, the competition was pretty tough this year, and I’m not sure we will be able to find a spot for you in our group this semester.”

Then they had to cap me a little bit.

“We enjoyed what you had to offer. We’d love for you to audition next semester! If you have any questions or want feedback on your audition, feel free to email us.”

I’m almost tempted to email them and ask for feedback. But that would be too much trolling.

Well, no shit.

Of course, I did not make it.

But for a small moment, I imagined myself being part of this brotherhood chanting among them, trapped by promises of prestige and friendship.

Out of all the caps you’ve heard in this story, this was the fattest cap, so I shut that shit down and moved on with my life.



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Tags: collegephilosophy