This past February, Arielle Jacobs returned to Broadway as Jasmine in Disney’s hit stage adaptation of Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre. She joined the New York cast of after starring in the 2016 Australian premiere of the musical. Jacobs made her Broadway debut in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning In the Heights, where she played Nina—a role she played on tour. Prior to Aladdin, she played Nessarose in Broadway’s Wicked, and has played leading roles in productions of Rent, Disney’s High School Musical, and Into the Woods.
Jacobs opens up her rep book to sing through some of her favorite songs, and reveals what she looks for when it comes to selecting the perfect pop song for an audition.
What do you look for when selecting an audition song? What in the material tells you that it will be successful?
Arielle Jacobs: I have to feel really confident in my voice, that it’s showing off what I want to show, but I also need to feel like it’s telling a story. It’s great if you pick a song that shows a lot of different colors, and it’s ideal if you can pick a song that might be similar to the emotional journey the character you’re auditioning for is going through. (If they don’t let you sing something from the show.) I try to pick a song that matches the emotional energy and whatever struggles the character is going through that I want to play.
What was the song you sang for the audition that booked your very first professional job?
“I’m Not Afraid of Anything” from Songs for a New World.
What did you sing when you auditioned for Aladdin?
For my very first audition for Aladdin I sang “Home” from Beauty and the Beast.
If given the option to pick a song of your own choosing, what are your go-to audition songs?
Most of my auditions, I get sides from the show itself. But sometimes they’ll say, “Sing something that you love to sing.” And when they say that, it’s usually a Jason Robert Brown song or a Stephen Schwartz song. I love “Spark of Creation,” and I used to sing “Stranger to the Rain” a lot, both from Children of Eden. And I sing Sondheim sometimes. I sing “Take Me to the World” or “I Remember” from Evening Primrose, there are such beautiful visuals you can see during the song. And I also do a jazzy version of “Blue Moon.”
What were some of the songs that you worked on when you were just starting out, or in school, that have remained with you?
“Home” I’ve sung since high school. “I’m Not Afraid” I’ve sung since college. And “Patterns,” from Baby, I sing quite a bit. And also, “Much More” from The Fantasticks.
What’s the ideal warm-up for you ahead of a big audition? How do you make sure your voice is ready without overdoing it?
I like to do a short vocal warm-up right when I wake up. Five to ten minutes of humming and lip trills just to get my voice flexible. Then I stop singing and I’m quiet for a while. Maybe an hour or two later I’ll do a full vocal warm up, which is maybe 25–30 minutes, and then I’ll sing through the song I’m going to sing at the audition later that day. Then I stop, and I’m quiet again until right before the audition. Depending on where the audition is, I will try to get there 45 minutes to an hour early and rent a studio for 15 minutes to sing through the song one more time and then I’m ready.
What song have you wanted to sing for an audition that you haven’t been able to?
“Your Daddy’s Son” from Ragtime. I sang that when I was in high school, and I love singing that song. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to sing it.
Do you remember the first time you heard it?
I loved the cast album. In high school I used to listen to Ragtime. Sunset Boulevard was my favorite. Also Into the Woods and The Secret Garden.
What is your favorite pop song to sing at an audition?
“Taking Chances” by Celine Dion.
What makes a good audition pop song for you as an actor?
Well, in “Taking Chances,” she sings, “What do you say to taking chances?” So she’s talking to someone specific, so I can really create a story that makes sense for this song so I can actually act it as if I’m talking to somebody.
Is it hard to find pop songs that do that?
Yes. With a musical theatre song, the song is written to help the character figure something out. They are working through something in the lyrics in order to come to a decision about something. And those are the best songs to sing because they’re active. But a pop song, because it’s so repetitive, they’re not trying to figure something out. They’re just saying, “This is how I feel. This is how I feel,” over and over again, which isn’t very exciting to watch or to play as an actor. So it is very hard to find pop songs that l can connect with like that.
Accompaniment in the video above provided by Ben Moss.