Simon Cowell’s X-Factor Admits to Vocal Tweaks

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We’ve come to expect that many pop singers use Auto-Tune in some form, whether on their recordings or in live performance. But is using voice-enhancing technology on a TV talent contest going too far?
It’s emerged that British TV show, The X-Factor, led by music mogul, and the man behind much of the music that makes the charts, American Idol‘s Simon Cowell, has been using auto-tune to improve contestants’ voices. Allegations were made after Saturday’s season premiere, featured a performance by 18-year-old contestant Gamu Nhengu, who sang Katrina and the Waves’ 1980s hit “Walking On Sunshine.”

After the show aired, The X-Factor‘s Internet forums exploded with comments from outraged fans, claiming they could clearly hear evidence that vocal enhancements had been employed. One person commenting on The X-Factor Facebook group exclaimed: “This is fraud! Conning people into believing these people can sing when they’re using auto-tune, then taking their money with voting.” (Go to 2:45 in the below clip to hear Nhengu’s audition)


In response, an X-Factor spokesman said post-production work was necessary on the show due to the number of microphones used during filming. “The judges make their decisions at the auditions stage based on what hey hear on the day, live in the arena.” He also stressed that the practice of enhancing contestants’ voices was purely to “deliver the most entertaining experience possible for viewers.” But the implication from viewers is that bosses want to put through not just the most talented singers but those with compelling back stories, a crucial staple of what makes reality TV so successful.

And in recent years there have been protests by leading lights in the music industry over the increasingly wide spread use of vocal enhancement technology. Last year Jay-Z released the song “Death of Auto-Tune”, a call for rap music to go back to basics, while Christina Aguilera wore a T-shirt with the slogan “Auto-Tune is for p—–s”. That said, the singer later admitted that she had used it on her own albums. This all might lead some to conclude that Britain isn’t alone and that perhaps America’s newest TV singing stars are also, as The Beatles once sang, getting a little help from their friends.

— Frances Perraudin