Although Jessica Keenan Wynn originally went in for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’s title character (the Grammy Award-winning music icon Carole King), she now plays Cynthia Weil. Here, she explains how she conquered the audition room and booked the job. She goes through her book of songs, and reveals what material she uses plus gives aspiring performers advice on how to have a successful audition.
What song did you sing to book this job?
Jessica Keenan Wynn: Well, I initially went in for Carole, so I sang “Beautiful” and “Natural Woman”… Go figure. Luckily, I piqued their interest enough to come back in with “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” both of which I did not know. I think there should be a class in song cramming.
What are two other go-to audition songs you sing?
It’s rare nowadays that I have to sing from my book. Many auditions provide you with sides and songs from the show. I personally prefer that because it allows the casting and creatives to see exactly how your voice would fit in their production puzzle. I do, on the other hand, have a go-to audition song, even when it doesn’t quite fit the genre—that’s because it’s much more of a personality/acting/JKDubs 32-bar cut. That song is Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby.” I’ve booked special shows with that little babe (including Heathers). Another one I throw out here is “The Woman In The Moon” from A Star is Born. Babs for life.
What have you used at auditions when casting directors switch to an 8-bar cut?
Anything with a long, sustained high note and a little button that shows off your personality at the end. Let’s be serious, what are you really looking for with just 8 bars?! Pitch, breath support, and sprinkle of you? Well, I think the “you” part would shine the most! It’s rough regardless.
Any advice on finding the perfect cut? Do you work with a rep coach?
I think a song that tells a story the way you would tell the story is vital. An audition is not just saying the lines and singing the songs, but showcasing who you, the person, [is and] shining through a piece. Your interpretation—there isn’t a right or wrong way to convey it. It’s just your take. You need to give the people watching a treat, turn the tables, and prepare something you can get crafty and creative with, thus intriguing the pens and papers behind the table to want more. I work with a vocal coach on technique, but my friends are my greatest audition coaches.
What do you use for auditions that ask you to not sing musical theatre songs?
Depending on the audition, I usually pick a standard, a song from the ’70s that Barbra [Streisand] most likely recorded and somehow remained underdone, or anything that doesn’t make the table cringe in pain because it’s been overplayed and overdone.
Where do you look for inspiration? How do you keep your book fresh?
I love watching Inside the Actors Studio, documentaries about legends in the Golden Age of Hollywood, classic films, and behind-the-scenes clips. The women who paved the way for my talents are always the ones I come back to with adoration and curiosity. I love how Liza [Minnelli] effortlessly tells a story through song, the way Barbara Streisand uses her hands to create stunning gestures, how Patti LuPone can change the tone of a piece with just her eyes, and the way Katharine Hepburn can ferociously jump from hot to cold, yet still be lovable. I think it’s more important to keep the storytelling in the song fresh, rather than replacing it with a new tune. Quality over quantity usually wins.
Do you have a terrible audition story, or was there a song you used that you’d never use again?
Most of my terrible audition stories revolve around the dance calls of yesteryear. One of my first appointments was for We Will Rock You, and when I got there I noticed that we were dancing first, and then would sing (probably a spectacular 8-bar cut). I sat down to stretch my concrete singer body, and I asked the guy across from me what he was going to sing if asked to stay, to which he replied, “Oh, I dunno… ‘Happy Birthday’ most likely.” I stayed for one count of 8 and drove straight to In-N-Out [Burger]. True story. Songs I would never use again? That’s tricky. I had to retire “Astonishing” [from Little Women] pretty soon after I learned it because every single girl my age was beating the dead casting horse with it. Given my luck, I would list a song that I would never use again here and next week get called in and asked to prepare that very song. So… Bring ’em all in! Never say never!