‘The X Factor’ Auto Tune Scandal—If T-Pain Only Did Cheesy Cover Songs

Becky Bain | August 24, 2010 12:41 pm

As much as you may have covered your ears whenever Tim Urban sang on the last season of American Idol, at least we know that’s what the smiley man really sounded like. The U.K.’s The X Factor is under scrutiny for Auto-Tuning contestants’ vocals to make them sound better… and worse. Jump below for more details (and proof) of the controversy across the pond.

Contrary to the belief that these reality shows are searching for raw “natural” talent, The X Factor‘s Season 7 premiere episode from this past Saturday featured performers whose voices were altered in post-production. Listen to contestant Gamu Nhengu’s take on Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” over at YouTube (embedding disabled) where her tweaked vocals are let’s just say, less than subtle.

The X Factor producers are only slightly admitting they they tamper with performers’ voices, claiming that they only enhanced contestants’ vocals due to interference caused by the amount of microphones used during filming.

“The judges make their decisions at the auditions stage based on what they hear on the day, live in the arena,” said a spokesperson for the show. “The footage and sound is then edited and dubbed into a finished program, to deliver the most entertaining experience possible for viewers. When it gets to the live shows, it will be all live.”

However, the Daily Mirror reports that tweaking contestants’ voices in post-production is a regular practice on the show. Says an anonymous member of the production crew:

“It was an open secret on the show that Auto-Tune was used to both make contestants slightly more on key – or off – key. On some occasions it was used to such extremes that while the contestant may have sounded like they were hitting the right note, the backing band had gone right out of tune.

“It has been used for a long time on the show both for the auditions and the live shows.

“The problem is that you have got a lot of contestants who sound equally good, so how do viewers at home make a judgment on who to pick.

“So Auto-Tune has been used to make good singers sound even better and not so good singers sound much worse.

“Obviously that would result in a much more entertaining show where some singers sounded hilariously bad, constantly missing notes, and others were amazingly polished. We all thought it wasn’t right to use that kind of equipment on a talent contest as it gave viewers a misleading view of the singers’ ability. It was a bit of a con.”

Lily Allen, never one to hold back her tongue, is tweeting her exasperation at the show’s controversy. “its shit. FACT!” the singer posted on her Twitter. “Its everything that I detest about modern western culture. Cowell is the only one who really benefits.”

And she’s not just angry because she has some deep desire to join the judges table. “I’d rather actually eat my own crap, than sit next to any of those goons,” she tweeted. “Except cheryl [Cole], obvs.”

Simon Cowell, protective over the reputation of his show (especially since it will debut in the U.S. next year) has reportedly put the kibosh on any more use of Auto-Tune. So you can either thank him or hate him for allowing bad singers to share their natural terrible voice with the world.

We’re personally puzzled over the notion that X Factor producers are changing vocals “to deliver the most entertaining experience possible for viewers.” Do they not know that television audiences are actually entertained not by listening to flawless singers with perfect pitch. We’re entertained by the very act of watching a talent competition and judging for ourselves whom we think is good or bad, or whom we believe can get better (or worse) over time.

The interactive nature of these reality competition shows is what is the most entertaining aspect of tuning in—we’re not watching a cruise ship performance where we just sit back and let songs roll over our ears. We, along with the judges, are trying to find a star. And changing vocals to deliver what producers think we want to hear is not only wrong, but just plain misguided.