Every year, certain events seem to creep forward in the calendar — the football season, the display of Christmas decorations… Add to that list The X Factor, which started its run-up to try and get the Christmas number one spot on Saturday with an average audience of 11.1 million.
Of course, just as moaning about Christmas getting earlier every year also gets earlier every year, so too the start of the X Factor season brings with it the critics.
The source of much of the criticism is the manipulation: allowing plainly bad acts through two off-screen audition processes in order to be paraded and ridiculed in front of the camera, for one. Last year, Geneveive Hassan, a reporter for BBC News, experienced first hand some other manipulations to make the show look better for the camera:
Unbelievably, production staff went around handing out hand-made posters for people to hold up saying things like “I have the X Factor”, “I love you Cheryl” and “Pick me Simon!”. I had always thought they were lovingly made at home…
Once again we were made to stand up, sit down, scream, wave our hands and dance. When the auditionees began to revolt (there was audible moaning and complaining) a member of the production team took out a loud-hailer and told us off.
If we didn’t want to participate “then you shouldn’t be here”. One guy was singled out and made an example of. He got up and left.
To an extent, despite complaints from some, the audience at home seems to tolerate some of the manipulations, because the result is a genuinely entertaining programme.
WIth this series, though, there are signs that a larger portion of the audience are getting frustrated with the manipulation — because the production team have applied pitch correction (also known as ‘autotune’) to some contestants’ audition performances.
One of the most noticeable applications of autotune was on Gamu Nhengu’s rendition of Walking on Sunshine:
The production team have admitted to using ‘vocal tweaks’ on the show, with a spokesman saying:
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.
There seems to be an implication here that if a singer isn’t absolutely pitch perfect, it makes the show less entertaining for viewers. To me, that seems faintly patronising, and not a little inconsistent. One of the main pillars of The X Factor and its ilk is the ‘journey’, the progression from person in the street to fully fledged recording artiste. If electronic technology is used to polish the very first performance that we see, surely that journey becomes lessened in the eyes of the public?
The X Factor isn’t the only programme to use autotune, of course. High school musical show Glee has used the technology in many of its production numbers, although its application is usually rather more sparing and crafted than ITV’s ham-fisted attempts — save for where it is over-applied for a special effect, such as the Sue Sylvester/Olivia Newton John ‘Physical’ video. And in terms of over-application, there are no finer exponents than the Gregory Brothers, who craft infectiously catchy pop tunes from innocuous video clips.
For a talent show to resort to vocal tweaking, though, does seem to be taking the biscuit somewhat. The public backlash after this first show will prove interesting if it continues to escalate through the series’ run. The X Factor is already having a difficult year, with Dannii Minogue absent on maternity leave and Cheryl Cole struck down with malaria. Call me crazy, but I’m sensing that the tabloids, who love to swarm over any controversy like carrion crows, are not going to let this one go.