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Choice words from a surprising panel

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Actors often have a tough time finding honest and useful information that can help improve their careers. There are expensive classes and seminars out there that promise the world but rarely deliver. So where is a poor actor to turn? Well, what would you say if I told you that you can learn all you need to know in a few short hours, and it won't cost you a dime? You'd probably think Secret Agent Man took a crazy pill, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong. Here's the big secret. Watch American Idol. It's on twice a week, it's 100 percent free, and the show is packed with valuable advice. And I don't care if you're not a singer. That's not the point. A performance is a performance, and those wacky judges are constantly offering terrific feedback that all of you should take to heart.

One of the comments I hear over and over from the judges on the show is about song choice. Man, I can relate to that one, especially when I'm attending a showcase or when some misguided actor is performing a scene in my office. You need to understand that when you're doing work for an agent, we're judging both your performance and choice of scene. This is important because we want to know how you see yourself being cast. I constantly watch decent actors screw up their chances by picking material that's completely wrong for them. For example, if you're a woman in your 30s, you probably shouldn't perform a monologue that was written for a girl who's in college. And if you're a man who looks like he shaves with sandpaper, then you shouldn't do a scene that's better-suited for a Brad Pitt type. Trust me on this: Scene choice is everything.

Another criticism I hear a lot from the judges is about a singer's lack of personality. This is a big one if you want to succeed as an actor. Decisions are made every day in this town because one person likes another. I often get my clients great auditions because casting directors enjoy my sense of humor. It makes me stand out from the pack of sharks that are constantly yelling on the phone. So when you're taking a meeting with an agent, you need to show personality. Give us a chance to get to know the real you. Who knows? If we like you as a person, it could make all the difference when it's time to vote on your chances of becoming a signed client.

And finally, have you ever heard Simon Cowell complain that a performance was too "karaoke"? A lot of people don't understand what he means by that, but I totally get it. Guys like me have learned to sleep with our eyes open, thanks to all the mediocre actors we've had to endure in bad showcases. I'm talking about performers who don't bring anything unique to the material. They make safe choices, and as a result they make no impression. This is what I call a "karaoke performance." It's just a cheap copy of what could've been. As an actor, you must never settle in your work. You should always strive to make every role your own. It's all about bringing your personality to the performance. A casting director friend once told me that if she reads 10 people for a part, the odds are nine of them will do the scene exactly the same way. So guess who gets the callback?

Thanks to our good friends at the Fox network, you have a lot to mull over for the next few months. And for what it's worth, my money's on the little kid with the big voice. Go, David!

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