"American Idol" (FOX) isn't just a singing contest. It's basically a televised audition process to produce the next pop music star. Year after year, teens and adults audition for the show hoping to make it onto the show, and eventually win the show. Having watched every season, I've developed my own list the 12 habits, skills, qualities and traits that the winners of "American Idol" have exhibited in the past seasons. I call it my "American Idol" Survival Guide.

I soon realized that my version of the "American Idol" Survival Guide not only applied to just "American Idol" contestants, but to any artist in any field. As an artist you should know your craft, know who you want to be as an artist, and always be striving to be the best in your field. Every piece of work you do should have emotional content behind it. So really, this isn't just an "American Idol" Survival Guide, it's also a survival guide for artists in general. But it definitely would be useful for any "American Idol" contestant.

As Ryan Seacrest might annoyingly draw out... this... is the "American Idol"... Survival Guide:

1. Learn how to sing: "American Idol" is not a beatbox contest, or a dance contest, nor is it a beauty pageant. It's not even a popularity contest. "American Idol" is first and foremost about singing. If you can't sing, stay home. If you are in the contest to become a celebrity, stay home. Here's a good test to see whether or not you can sing well enough to be on the show. Go on a street corner, put out a hat, and start singing (no instruments, no costumes, no signs). If you can't make $40 in one day, you are not ready for "American Idol".

2. Learn to sing while playing a musical instrument: You don't have to know how to play an instrument to win "American Idol." Knowing how to play an instrument, however, will help you develop perfect pitch, and to stay on key. If you do decide to play an instrument, make sure it doesn't detract from your singing. You should know how to play a song blindfolded; that's how good you should be. In the end, your voice is your primary instrument.

3. Learn to memorize a song in 24 hours: Print out the "Billboard Top 100" music list for the current year, and the top songs of all time. Each day, every day, memorize (without instruments) the lyrics to one song. Memorize every lyric and note. Put your own spin on it if you can. Then, if you're capable, learn to play it with your musical instrument of your choice, and memorize that. Put your notes in a binder (to use during "American Idol"), and then move onto the next song. You can alternate between lists if you want, or take weekends off, but make sure you commit to memorizing a song every day. This will not only help you during Hollywood Week, but also during the regular competition.

4. Learn to work in groups: Join a band, whether it is a high school band or a pick-up band. The Top 10 Finalists on "American Idol" go on a concert road tour, which means you'll be singing in groups. The show always opens with a group performance. On Hollywood Week, group performances are the most brutal. Guess what? You need to learn how to work in groups, and know how to create harmonies.

5. Learn to dance and sing: Or at least learn how to walk and sing. In the end, you're not just going to be singing on stage; you'll also be performing. If you don't know how to move and dance at the same time, the audience will be turned off by your awkwardness.

6. Leave the costume at home: If you feel you need to wear a costume, or show tons of cleavage, or have a funky hairstyle in order to stand out, then that means you have no confidence in your voice. Your voice is what needs to standout.

7. Pick the right songs: Many contestants pick songs by famous artists hoping that we will make a comparison between them. Unfortunately, we end up thinking more about the other artists, and the contestant tends to disappear. Pick songs that highlight your talents, not the talents of existing pop stars. Don't sing it word for word, note for note. Put your own flavor into it. On the other end of the spectrum, don't pick a song because it's your grandmother's favorite song. Instead, pick a song that tells a story about the struggle your grandmother went through. Don't pick a song because you just have fun when you sing it. That's being indulgent. And if you pick a slow song, don't make it boring. Put some emotion into it.

8. Just sing the song: Don't pick a song because it hits every audible note. Showing style and range is important, but hearing the melody is more important. The audience wants to know what song you're singing.

9. Understand the lyrics: Know what the song is about. Understand what story the song is trying to tell. Figure out the phrasing and arches of the song. Knowing these things will help you put your own spin on them.

10. Be vulnerable: Every year, the competition always turned for a competitor when they became vulnerable on stage. They picked a song that told story about themselves. Being vulnerable isn't just about singing an emotional song. Being vulnerable means you put your own emotions and your own story into the song. We should know what your story is without you telling it to us. Sing it to us.

11. Know who you are as an artist: We should know from every song your pick what kind of artist you are. The way you sing your songs should tell us radio station you'll be playing on. We should be able to picture who your target audience is. If you think you're going to be on every station, and if you think every person will buy your album, then you don't know what kind of artist you want to be. Pick songs that define who you are as an artist. Pick a song that you think you can release tomorrow, and have it playing on your favorite radio station.

12. Be in it to win it: If you just want to make it to Hollywood Week, you're not going to win. If you just want to get onto the Top 24, you're not going to win. If you want to be on "American Idol" for exposure, for popularity, or because you want to become a celebrity, you're not going to win. If you pick easy songs, you're not going to win. If you don't know if you can actually win the whole thing, then you won't win. You should sing for your life every time you get on stage.

Now, following every one of the tips above won't guarantee that you'll win "American Idol." But not following these tips guarantees that you won't win. As you watch "American Idol," try to pick out which contestants follow these rules, and which one's don't. The one's that win aren't just great singers, they are talented artists. Being a talented artist is what it means to be... an "American Idol."

Author's Bio: 

Young B. Kim is a writer, artist, serial entrepreneur, and the creator of ideavist™. Young's mission is to help people make their ideas happen through his writing, coaching, consultations, and through speaking engagements on ideation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

Read more of his articles, visit www.ideavist.com