Why I Won’t Be Auditioning for The Voice (Or Any Other Televised Talent Competition)

Tonight, I’m standing in a stranger’s living room, singing at a house concert.  I’m far from home and I don’t know anyone here but you’ve given me your time, your ear and your heart for two hours and by the end of the night, we know each other.  We are fulfilled and changed by the experiences of the evening and life is good.  We are moved, unexpectedly.

You approached me with tears in your eyes.  I was standing near the tissue box so I had the honor of handing one to you.  You told me what that one song meant to you, how it spoke exactly of an experience you’d had and that it meant the world to hear someone else felt the same way.

After a few moments of each of us trying to find the words, you said, “And you should audition for the The Voice!”  I smiled and laughed a bit and said thank you.  “I mean it,” you said, “you’re good enough!  You could win!  You could be famous!  Someday, you’ll make it and we’ll say we knew you when.”

I’ve come to realize that this is a huge compliment, maybe the biggest compliment that you could possibly offer.  You have just placed me in the company of some of the best singers you know of.  You believe in me.  You want me to have success and you want others to experience what you’ve experienced here tonight.  I’m flattered and humbled and grateful.

For many people, watching one of the myriad singing competitions on TV is a huge deal, like a cross between a soap opera and football, exciting and dramatic and entertaining, an epic battle with a winner declared at the end.  And you can be directly involved in the outcome.  After all, it’s up to you to vote your favorite into the next round.  And seriously, there is some pretty incredible talent on those shows, especially The Voice.  So I’m flattered that you consider me talented enough to vocally rumble in the ring on your favorite TV show.

But I’m absolutely not going to do that.  Here’s why:

1)  I’m not interested in ‘winning’ at singing.  

I sing for a living so in all honesty, I ALREADY win at singing.  How strange it would be to have a celebrity judge (who probably knows less about singing than I do) listen to me for 30 seconds and decide if I’m ‘good enough’.  I AM good enough to sing for a living because I’m doing it right now.

I sing for people, on purpose, at concerts and festivals and weddings and churches and bars.  I studied music in college and have a degree in classical voice.  I’m a singer/songwriter and I’m signed to a small and awesome record label.  I sing for a living and I sing for people and I sing for myself.  I totally win.

2)  I’m not really interested in being famous.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not opposed to being well known or to my songs being heard by the masses or to making enough money to buy my mom a decent washer and dryer.  But I have never been interested in achieving fame.  Fame usually has nothing to do with the music and it almost certainly has nothing to do with talent.

It’s hard to judge the success of a musician without using fame as a measuring stick.  But it can be pretty simple.  Am I singing?  Check.  Are people hearing it?  Check.  Is everyone happy/moved/inspired/dancing/thinking at the end?  Check.  Do I want to do it again tomorrow night?  Check.  That, my friend, is success.

3)  I don’t want to compete with other singers.

There are plenty of people out there taking advantage of musicians.  They want us to perform for free.  They want us to give them the rights to our music.  They want us to ‘pay to play’.  They want $2000 for introducing us to the guy who might use a song in a TV show.  We have enough obstacles out there.  We don’t need to be stumbling over each other, too.

One of the greatest joys in my life has been meeting and performing and collaborating with other singers and musicians around the country.  They are my tribe.  I love them and I want them to survive and thrive and make more of their amazing music.  I want to share the stage with them.  I want to high five the guy who is trying out a new song, even if he knows his performance wasn’t perfect.  I want to be blown away by that girl with the amazing voice and not worry that she might be better than me.  I want all of us to try new things, play new instruments and write new songs without wondering if the audience is going to vote us off.

I have had the pleasure of finding my tribe, some ships that have passed in the night and some who are docked in the same harbor.  There are hundreds of us.  Thousands of us.  And life is better when we’re for each other, not against.

4)  I want to help write a new definition of success for musicians.  

I will admit, it’s pretty awesome to flip on the TV and see someone you know singing their hearts out for the world to see.  I’ve had friends audition for almost every major singing competition, some making it to the finals, others not making it through the first round.  And just because that’s not the path for me doesn’t mean that’s not the path for them, so I support them whole-heartedly.

But on many occasions, I’ve seen them give up when they get home.  They didn’t win the singing competition so they decide to go to bar-tending school.  Looks like they won’t skyrocket to fame, so they change their course all together.  Some of the best singers I’ve ever heard are deflated because they lost out to a juggling dog.  All the eggs, one basket.

It takes time and hard work to achieve whatever it is that you consider success but you won’t regret it.  My life is full of music because I made choices along the way to ensure that it is.  I could have given up when I wasn’t a famous singer by the time I was 21 years old.  Oh, the things I would have missed.  Even if fame is the ultimate goal…take the road less traveled and enjoy the ride.

As my friend and executive producer Lauren Markow always says: “Even a bad day making music is better than a good day doing anything else”.  Right. On.

5)  Because tonight was PERFECT.

Who says that the best music in the world is made in front of a huge audience?

It’s not.  It’s made in small rooms.  It’s made by people you’ve never heard of.  It’s made when a musician is alone, writing a song, practicing, trying something new.  It’s made when a french horn and it’s player become one entity.  It’s made when your choir is rehearsing a week before the scheduled performance and everyone just clicks.  It’s made at the Saturday matinee performance when the lead soprano finally understands and fully becomes her character.  It’s made when I am singing one of my songs and I look up to see you, crying, nodding, completely present and I realize that I don’t even know what this song is about anymore.

So no, I’m not going to be auditioning for The Voice.  Because I would much rather be standing right here, singing in a stranger’s living room, seeing your face as I sing, handing you a tissue as you tell me how my songs moved you.  I am part of your experience and you are part of mine.  I am fulfilled and I am changed and I am moved that you are moved.  And this is what I want my life to be.  Welcome to the tribe.

I will forever treasure the compliment.


PS, I would love to do a house concert in your living room!  Learn more about what a house concert is here and here.  Shoot me an email and we’ll talk!

197 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Be Auditioning for The Voice (Or Any Other Televised Talent Competition)

  • So true, Amy!
    Competitions should be for horses, not artists.
    Never let a panel of egotistic ‘judges’ judge your talent.
    Only you can know the trie value of your own creativity, when it becomes your life, not a career in show-business.
    Keep on the poetic approach!

  • Hey Johnny!
    I can absolutely assure you that I don’t think I’m better than anybody else and I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything even remotely close to that in my blog. I’m sorry that’s how you read it.
    And while it’s not my sole reason for not auditioning for these shows, you may be correct in that I do have a bit of “rage against the machine” in me. This industry needs to be raged against. Until artists are back in control of their own music, you can bet that I will continue raging by doing what I want, when I want and on my own terms.
    Thanks for the comment and if you’re a musician, best of luck to you!

  • Thank you so much for writing this….I’ve been trying to explain the same thing to people here in Canada for 2 years. They all say: ”Why don’t you go to the Voice?”…..And it gets frustrating when they just don’t get it. I will now refer them to this magnificent post!

  • Amy,
    As I have several friends that are local singing “celebrities” who are quite good, they often feel the same way as you. Many times in my life I have tried to be a supporter of their own success just by being there to listen to them when I can (unfortunately it is not as often as I like anymore due to current employment). However, that being said, some of the most memorable times I have had with these friends has been when they were often sitting around with other similar friends, just having impromptu jam sessions or little venue concerts. It is times like that that I really connect with their music and their passion for it. Times like that make me weep or cry for joy and make me want to listen to them even more. To me they are definitely successful.

  • Love, Love, Love This… People Ask Me “WHY” I Play Music For A Living…Lol. When Am I Going To Get A “REAL” Job! This Lady Here??? Nails It! True… There’s A Whole Lot To Be Said For Being A Big Fish, In A Lill Pond, And Being Home w/ Family, And Friends… Loved Ones. Some Of The Highest Paying Gigs I’ve Ever Done? Were In People’s Living Rooms.. Some Of The Satisfying Music I’ve Ever Created? Lol. Was In A Local Lounge, Or Restaurant Getting Paid A Small Base, Plus Tips… It’s Not About Fame, Or Fortune. It’s About Music… About People… About Sharing Your Gift w/ Others, No Matter What, Or Where The Venue Is, To Know You Have In Some Way Made Another Persons Day A Little Lighter, A Little Happier, Or In Some Inexplicable Way… Touched Their Heart??? Reached Their Soul…Do That w/ A Song You Wrote??? Wow! There Is Hands Down No Other Feeling In The World That Can Take Its Place… None. You Rock “Amy Petty”. My Sentiments Exactly Here… A Must Read … Right! B Check It Out “Pat Decuire”… <3

  • Competition Causes Stress, Hatred, jealousy, Depression, Fighting, poverty and greedy filthy rich and in a some cases Death.
    This is what I think!!!
    People against people is that what society needs. Or maybe just people loving people so we can all be better off.

  • I totally concur with your thoughts… I am a 55 year old guitarist/musician & taking two weeks off of work due to stress… Your article has given me the push not to waste this two weeks… I record, produce & I enjoy… My Mantra seems to be that: “I want my music, the music you hear, to sound as though the musicians are right in your living room”… Never over produced, but clean… I do not loop anything & I do not cut & paste… capture the Moment attitude…

  • I totally concur with your thoughts… I am a 55 year old guitarist/musician & taking two weeks off of work due to stress… Your article has given me the push not to waste this two weeks… I record, produce & I enjoy… My Mantra seems to be that I want my music, the music you hear to sound as though the musicians are right in your living room… Never over produced, but clean… I do not loop anything & I do not cut & paste… capture the Moment attitude…

  • This is the truest thing I’ve ever read. Thanks for the creative boost! I always find myself getting absorbed with my day job, and by the time I come home, my mind is like pudding. I’ve started a project recently because I missed writing, recording, and playing music. It felt like something was missing, and ever since I started writing and singing again, I’ve started to feel like myself again. Thanks for posting this. It’s so true, and reminded me of how much I love music. One love.

  • Amy-There are times in life when your pen speaks from your hand and not your soul. Your hand wrote “Fame usually has nothing to do with the music and it almost certainly has nothing to do with talent” but your soul knows that Bob Dylan, John Lennon, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Roberta Flack, John Mayer, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, John Legend, and many others reached you through their fame and inspired you to sing and play. After all isn’t inspiration the source of it all?
    You don’t want to audition and I understand the fear. However, please don’t trample upon those that act when inspired. Supporting all musicians in every form frees the soul and fills you with joy.
    You also wrote “There are plenty of people out there taking advantage of musicians. They want us to perform for free. They want us to give them the rights to our music. They want us to ‘pay to play’. They want $2000 for introducing us to the guy who might use a song in a TV show. We have enough obstacles out there. We don’t need to be stumbling over each other, too” – It sounds like you’ve been poorly treated and I’m sorry to hear it. Looks like you’ve dipped your toe into the business and didn’t like what you found. Let the light into your music life and see what happens this time around. I can tell you believe in your music, you just need to believe in yourself. Hang in there and contact me if I can do anything to help.

  • I love this. I am a musician , and wanted FAME, but I learned that fame was not for me.. I love performing in small venues when people really appreciate you. I understand this wonderful message that I just read.. God is good to those who are wise enough to know THAT FAME IS NOT ALL THAT!!!

  • Hey Jamie, thanks for your comment!
    I actually really appreciate what you’ve said here. Let me clarify a few things, if I may:
    I absolutely assure you that everything I wrote was from my heart, and that my heart controls my hand, always.

    Today’s music industry is a completely different animal than the one from the days of Dylan, Lennon, the Stones, Cash, etc. This new culture chooses it’s famous people using different standards. They were famous because they were first and foremost amazing musicians, singers and songwriters. Today, those qualities are not prerequisites for being famous. You are right, those artists are inspirations to me. I wonder if any of those people would be famous today, using the current standards?
    Of course, I’m speaking generally. There are some very talented artists who’ve become famous in recent years like John Meyer, Adele, Lauryn Hill, John Legend…and I’m sure there were less talented famous people back in the day. In my article, I’m strictly speaking about the current industry.

    You can be absolutely sure that fear doesn’t play a factor in my decision. At all. I simply don’t want to do it. My article is only trying to explain my heart to those who ask me about my decision.
    If you read #4 in my article, you will see that I am in full support of those who choose to compete on these shows. Again, this is not a criticism of the shows or the contestants, only an attempt to explain my decision to people who may not understand.

    Lastly, I think you’ve misunderstood the entire point of my article!
    I have watched as people I know, my friends, musicians who amaze me with their talent, singers who blow me away are taken advantage of, lied to, stolen from, sued and treated as second class citizens. I don’t have the same story, not by a long shot. Like I said in my article, I have found my tribe, those who support me, love me, encourage me and protect me along the way, and I am able to do the same for them. I’ve been able to find amazing success as a musician and cross off some big dreams from my bucket list along the way. I’ve chosen to focus on a different path on my journey, not the new standard. I call my own shots and live and work on my own terms and I have achieved more than I ever thought possible.

    Seriously, thanks for your comments. And thanks for reading! I hope you understand the heart and intention of the article.

  • Wow! Great article! Too many talented musicians quit because they can’t be a ‘big star’. Or think they can’t make a living at it. I think the best musicians know how to surround themselves with other people who play to their strengths and weaknesses.

  • I agree…too much time wasted on becoming the next big thing…my thing is performing in Harvard Sq every summer…every night…to a passing audience of unknown listeners..what’s the sense of playing a local venue to a crowd of your friends..?… Performing outside gives you the opportunity to play for people from all over the world on an intimate basis…they stop …listen…and enjoy what you do…I have been to open mics where they judge a “best” of the night and the click player wins just about every time…Play for yourself ..it’s real….

  • This is a good article and well written! I especially love the part where she quotes that even on a bad day making music is better than a good day doing anything else. The thing the writer misses out on, I think, is that an artist can do both- can play small intimate shows, can be a REAL musician, and can also try out or even be on the voice. I don’t think it’s one or the other, it’s all making music, so it’s all winning 😉

  • So well put, it’s scary that people give up if they can’t make it on these shows, there are other opportunities out there. Fame is not the be all and end all!

  • Your absolutely right, competitions are form of pollution, they have little or nothing to do with real authentic and genuine talent and as for the ‘being famous’ well that does not exist for anything after 1975, give or take a few years……

  • I agree 100%. Music is from the heart and soul and famous judges will talk about famous musicians like bob seger, Neil young, yet tear a kid apart on tv for not “having it” .Bob Dylan is another example of an exceptional artist who’s voice is often mocked yet so many (including myself) get his message and enjoy the music. For me ever artist has a story and understanding them involves there music. No vocalist should EVER be brought down, instead encouraged. Simon made me want to vomit….

  • So well put! Thanks for saying that it is a legitimate job and that it has merit and that providing people with intense moments of understanding and feeling is what music is for!
    I like that the new Pope (I’m not a Catholic) understands that the world has become too greedy and not for the betterment of the people. Playing/listening to music IS for the betterment of all people as it brings us closer together and our empathy re-emerges which will help us to continue to exist as a species!
    Whew! Guess I got that off my chest! Thank you again for your eloquent words. Your truth is inspiring!

  • If you are a professional, you already compete with other singers. You got the job; somebody who isn’t as good as you did not. Just because it isn’t exploited on TV doesn’t mean you aren’t competing.

  • Beautifully stated. Absolutely how I feel but have not been able to properly express. Wow. Thank you. And your Carnegie Hall video—wow, again. Thank you for sharing your gifts-wonderful musician and man, those vocals! Yes!!

  • I suppose that’s true on some level, Joe.
    I think it’s all a matter of perspective though. If I get the job and someone else doesn’t, it isn’t necessarily because I’m better than they are. I could just be the right person for this particular job. And maybe, they’ll be the right person for the next job.
    It doesn’t always have to be about better or worse, more talented or less talented.
    I do know that some people thrive in a competitive atmosphere and I’m sure that mindset works for them. I just know that it doesn’t work for me and it doesn’t work for a lot of musicians I know. It’s a change of perspective that has helped me form relationships, find contentment and get more jobs than I ever did before.
    Thanks for your comment!

  • the real work is done in the practice room with your ears as the judge. We are all much harder on ourselves than the Audience and you are right singing is the greatest gift one can posess.

  • @ Joe.
    AmyP is completely correct.

    Each person is an individual, so they have stories, experiences and methods of expressing themselves that no-one else has. So in essence you are trying to state that there is a competition between apples and oranges, which is a complete category mistake.

    Some people appreciate variety, some nights they want an apple, some nights they want an orange. Why as a consumer would I consider buying oranges if I want to make an apple pie? Because if all these products were in competition, I would have to consider making apple pie from oranges which is stupid and irrational and a waste of time.

    And so as you can see from my analogy, trying to force everything in life fit into your sociopathic, free-market, dog-eat-dog ideology just makes you completely miss the point…that art is not a competition.

  • Your wonderful! I am also a singer and song writer and can understand and feel what it is your saying. Thank you for saying it. God Bless you and all those you sing for.

  • Very well said.

    There is a multi-century tradition of house concerts (called “mehfils”) in the world of Indian classical music, where audience members react with spontaneous outbursts of praise for particularly beautiful passages. Some of my best moments have been singing for such small audiences — the mood in the room is incredibly beautiful, and the level of musical knowledge is very deep.

    Thank you for this nice post.

  • Nice post Amy. You went too easy on the “Glorified Karaoke Contests” that are polluting our airwaves with Clear-Channel crapola, though. I even tried out for America’s got Talent, and was thoroughly disgusted with the process. The networks aren’t looking for talent, they are looking for eyeballs that turn into dollars. It’s the people like you that help me to keep believing in the power and freedom of music–and in my humble opinion, fame is what screws up most really good musicians–I think bands like Journey, Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, REO Speedwagon, shit, even Bruce Springsteen, produced total crap after they got famous. (Compared to their first few albums, naturally.) Thanks for it!

  • Amy,

    A friend shared this on Facebook. Thank you so much for writing this. I play four times a week on Maui to a tourist audience and feel the same way. Also your reply to Jamie’s comment hit the nail on the head. If you ever want a vacation in Maui, you are welcome in my guest room and I’d be happy to work on setting up a house concert to! Just send me an email!


  • Amy, I must tell you that I agree with your article and subsequent answers to others’ comments 100%. Firstly, as a writer and editor, I must compliment you on your English writing skills. Secondly, I photograph a lot of local musicians in Phoenix and know their struggles because they have become good friends. I think that Americans love these talent shows more because of the competitive drama than for the musicianship being displayed. I have several friends and family members who have tried out for them, and come back with disappointing tales of the superficiality involved in the auditioning process. We Americans have long been acculturated with a highly competitive attitude about just about everything we do. We make a competitive game out of everything, sometimes to the detriment of the “losers.” And no, I’m not an advocate of every kid getting a trophy just for participating — kids, and adults, need to experience losing to learn how to get back up and learn how to succeed — that’s critical to success in life. However, we as a culture take it to extremes, as we do with so many other things. Being good or even excellent is never good enough for us — we want to know which one is the BEST! Who is Number One? The person who gets the Silver Medal by a few thousandths of a second is deemed a loser by many. Your team doesn’t win the Super Bowl? Losers! We rank everything. And when it comes to music I often have to laugh when, for instance I see those infomercials offering compilations of the “best” music of some bygone time — “Hey, these were all Billboard Number One Hits from every week of 1978” or whatever. Some of the best music ever recorded never made it into the top 10 or even 20 in their time on the charts. Good music is not about competitions, not really. Let’s face it, the talent shows, like every other TV show is there foremost to make money for the networks and producers through some form of entertainment. The producers hook the audience on certain contestants and then draw out the drama by giving you a glimpse into their lives and struggles so they can root for their favorite personality. If it was really about picking the “best talent,” ALL the contestants on the show, including the ones shown going through the auditioning process, would be equally excellent. There is no real shortage of talent out there. Out of 300 million people, there must be hundreds of thousands good enough to be on. Can you really blame Simon Cowell for telling the untalented ones they can’t sing? Really, they’re just there for contrast with the better ones who make it through to the semifinals. To sum up, there is WAY better talent out there NOT trying to get on these shows than what you usually see ON the shows. Thanks for sticking up for the rest of the musician world. However, it would be nice to see all you folks get more widespread recognition so a lot more of us can enjoy you!

  • I all the way love this attitude. I make music (not for a living, my goal is to record other folks’ music) and the best stuff, the most meaningful, the most inspiring, the tears-from-happiness kind of stuff happens in small, personal places. I make camp-fire music (https://soundcloud.com/wesottem) so I’m nobody to listen to on talent, but Lisa Scinta brought me to this article and I try to spread her name around as wide as I can. https://soundcloud.com/lisascintayoutube


    How do you know these people gave you their “heart”? Time, sure. Ears, by definition. But heart? Wow. You are SO more insightful than regular people. You know, us mortals? What a stroke of “almost doesn’t pass the smell test” luck that you could hand a tissue out. Wow. (Note to self: aspire to be this giving.) Had the person crying and sharing this cathartic moment ever heard live music before? ‘Cause I’ve heard and played a LOT of it, and tearful International Coffees moments aren’t the norm.

    If you’re “winning” at singing, why the need to point out why you won’t actually try to win something? Why not just continue your undefeated streak of winning every night? Oh, wait. That wouldn’t get you any attention, would it?

    You don’t want to compete with other singers? Sorry, but you already are. Yep. People can go see a singer any night of the year. It’s you, or the rest of the universe. So, you see, you’re ALREADY competing with other singers, whether you like it or not.

    You want to write a new definition of success for musicians? Here’s a thought. LET EACH MUSICIAN DEFINE THEIR OWN. LIKE YOU’RE DOING. For instance, some might define success as putting their balls on the table and actually directly showing millions of people what they have to offer. Some, you see, might not have a box of tissues in someone’s living room handy and decide that if they could get in front of millions, it might get a whole bunch of people exposed to their music. Their talent. That’s just as valid a route as the one you’ve chosen. You just don’t see those people writing articles on why they’d never perform in someone’s living room.

    And thank you for telling us that Pavarotti live in front of a packed house is not the best music in the world. Or that, just because someone is famous and performs in front of large crowds, they are not performing the best music in the world. Because we all know that Amy Petty holds that definition.

    No, the “best music in the world” is generally defined by individual people. Each person has their own view of it. Now, if we want to start tabulating how many of those individual people have gravitated to a particular artist, that might also have some bearing.

    But I realize it’s more comforting and less quantifiable to think, “Me and my friends and people like us toiling in relative anonymity are the ones making the best music in the world.” It’s a warm, comforting feeling that reinforces your own self-worth. I’m sure you clutch it tightly.

    I have never seen The Voice, American Idol, or The X Factor for more than about three minutes. I have no use for them. They are karaoke shows to me. Yet the Underwood gal seems to have built quite a credible career on it, hasn’t she?

    HOWEVER, a good friend went to the finals of America’s Got Talent. I played in small clubs all over with him. But ya know what? He has a family. Wife. Kids. Decided that he’d like to get SERIOUS about a full time career and he went for it.

    But then again, that guy appreciates all music. And all people. And all ways of expressing it. The route he chose is no better or no worse than yours.

    Difference being, he’s not crapping on your way after a few benign compliments to make himself seem more noble or virtuous.

    Oh, and as far as being famous? I wish you the best, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

  • Tom Gulley, I went back and forth whether or not I wanted to post a detailed response to your comment. I decided to leave it up to you. It’s written and ready for the reading, if you’re interested. If you’d like to know my response, post a comment here. I can email it to you or post it here, whichever you prefer.

    And while I had the option to not approve your comment for posting, I wanted to make sure that everyone else had the opportunity to read it. I’m interested to know if anyone will have anything to say about it.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond.

  • Hey Amy!

    I just wanted to say thank you. I can relate to everything you posted on this and I am so grateful to see another beautiful talented human raising some amazing vibrations! I hope that someday our paths can cross and we can play together. Super healing. Thank you I needed that today 🙂

  • This is exactly what I reply to everyone asking me the same question over and over. Don’t want to compete, I feel great where I am ! Thanks for sharing !

  • I found this via Evan Goodrow’s site via Phil Antoniades on Facebook. Very, very well stated Amy. Best of luck to you and don’t for a second pay any mind to the Tom Gulleys of the world. You’re on the right path. All the best, Jon

  • A friend sent me the link to this blog, and I have a lump in my throat, hope in my heart, and a gigantic hug I wish I could give you. I feel the exact same way – in every way. This is well-written, well-thought, and 100% true. I admire you, Amy, and though we haven’t met yet, hopefully someday we will. Keep making music the way you are. You’ve got a good tribe : )

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