X-Factor admits auto-tuning contestant, may have distorted other vocals, too

Simon Cowell’s The X Factor has admitted auto-tuning a contestant, and reports suggest the show might have also used Auto-Tune to modify the voices of contestants during live performance shows. (If you don’t know what Auto-Tune does, just watch Jimmy Fallon at the Emmys last year.)

The seventh season debuted in the UK on Saturday and featured an audition by a contestant, Gamu Nhengu, singing “Walking On Sunshine” (watch below), and her voice sounded distorted. A show spokesperson blamed the microphones on the stage and told BBC News:

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

But The Daily Mirror reports that “both contestants and fans are apparently being cheated on a surprisingly wide scale by producers tampering with Auto-Tune to alter performances,” because “singers’ voices were doctored to improve their appearances on the ITV1 show including the live finals” while others “are said to have been cruelly edited by technicians in the auditions to make them sound even more out of tune.”

Someone who worked on the show told the paper:

“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 judgement 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.”

X Factor is a slightly modified version of Pop Idol that’s coming to Fox next fall and will likely take over as American Idol fades away. Nikki Finke wrote that she “think[s] Fox has a duty to ensure that Cowell doesn’t bring his cheating ways to the U.S. when The X Factor launches Fall 2011.”

Here’s the auto-tuned audition:

X Factor admits to vocal tweaks [BBC News]
X Factor Auto-Tune scandal deepens amidst claims performances were altered during live finals [Daily Mirror]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.