Young Ambassadors’ intense audition process brings talent to the top

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The Young Ambassadors performing several numbers as part of a promotion for BYU Spectacular.

Young Ambassador president Tanner DeWaal first heard about the performing team from his middle school vocal teacher, who was a member. After hearing his teacher’s stories, he attended a performance and knew from then on it was something he wanted to be a part of. After practice and training and three auditions, DeWaal became a member of the Young Ambassadors.

Young Ambassadors is a performing group on BYU campus that has thrilled audiences around the world since 1969. Many musical theater actors have dreamed of one day joining the group, but with a rigorous and competitive audition process the achievement only goes to 10 men and 10 women a year.

With around 200 hopefuls at auditions every year, it often takes a few tries to make it into the group.

“People will usually audition once or twice before they make the company,” DeWaal said. “It is a great experience to audition and get a feel of what it is like so we encourage even freshman or incoming freshman to audition.”

The process begins with a initial audition where participants sing 16 bars of two contrasting songs. DeWaal said those songs need to be well-worked.

“We want them to come with material they are very proficient in and comfortable in, that we can tell they have worked at. They really need to know those two songs they audition with very well,” DeWall said.

Young Ambassadors artistic director Randy Boothe said those songs need to be the very best.

“Be well prepared. Be memorized. Make sure you have taken the time to consider all of the aspects of storytelling,” Boothe said. “Don’t give me something that is not ready. Give me the best performance you can possibly give me, and I’m hoping you will have fun.”

DeWaal said one of the most important parts of this initial audition is showing an ability to communicate with the audience through facial expressions and body language. “A number of our performances are done internationally with people who don’t speak English. We need them to be able to understand what is going on by our physicality and expressions,” he said.

Later in the day there is a dance call where everyone who auditioned that day comes together to learn a dance and perform. DeWaal said they really look for people who can take direction and correction.

Callbacks come on Friday with almost six hours of performing. Those auditioning sing specific solos from the show, dance, sing in a quartet to show ability to hold a part and fill out information on their academic goals and ideas on the ambassadorial aspect of the group.

By call backs the performers have been cut from 200 to 40 or 50 people. This is where organizers look for more specific qualities.

For instance, Young Ambassadors perform at least one vocal solo and several will have dance solos as well. Part of the callback process is to sing these solos in order to cast appropriately.

Young Ambassador member Whitney Hatch said the callbacks can be very stressful. “They can be intimidating because you have to perform in front of all the participants, but everyone is really supportive of each other so it ends up being fun.”

After the callbacks finish, directors and student leaders come together to rank their top 20 candidates. They check grades and honor code status and about four days after the auditions the new group of Young Ambassadors is posted.

Even going through this process once and making the group one year does not ensure a place in next year’s team. Every year the Young Ambassadors reaudition for a spot with the group.

Boothe said this is how he fulfills his role as an educator and makes sure everyone has an opportunity to participate.”There are so many students that are coming to BYU that would love the opportunity,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have been taking voice lessons and dance lessons and when they were 11 years-old decided they are going to be a Young Ambassador, and it would be discouraging if we only had a few slots open,” Boothe said.

It also gives the current Young Ambassadors an opportunity to share this experience and to go out and find new opportunities at BYU.

“We are eager for them to have a great experience but we don’t want them to say, ‘I found my home, this is what I’m going to do for the next four years,'” Boothe said. “There are so many opportunities to be had at BYU, whether it is being a student leader or getting more involved in their major. We want them to keep themselves open to all of the rich educational opportunities available at BYU.”

Although performance is a very important aspect of Young Ambassadors, it does not surpass the importance of their service and reaching out to others.

“Young Ambassadors are great service-oriented people with a lot of heart,” Boothe said. “We need people who can throw themselves into reaching out to people and meeting new people.”

Boothe said many of the performers have reputations that proceed them.

“Lots of these people have been in the musicals, dance theaters, choirs and such, and so I will check with faculty that had them about their experience,” Boothe said. “I will ask ‘How did they do? How are they like on the road? What are they like to work with? What is their personality? Is it upbeat?’ All of the things that you want in someone you are working with.”

In the end, working hard at performance skills is important but personality and interpersonal skills also play a huge factor into making the group. Hatch said personality is key to auditioning. “They really want to see your personality in the audition so I would say prepare the best you can but in the end just be yourself and have fun.”

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