Hudson's Super Bowl Lip-Sync No Surprise to Insiders

Jennifer Hudson is the latest artist to lip-sync during a performance.

ByLuchina Fisher and Sheila Marikar
December 15, 2008, 6:32 PM

Feb. 3, 2009 — -- By now, most people have probably heard about or seen Jennifer Hudson's flawless performance of the national anthem at Sunday's Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

What they may not know is the reason why it was flawless: Hudson lip-synced the anthem to a previously recorded track, and apparently so did Faith Hill who performed before her.

They did so at the request of Rickey Minor, the pregame show producer. Minor told The Associated Press that he insisted Hudson and Hill, who sang "America the Beautiful" before the anthem, use the tracks the National Football League requires them to submit a week before the game.

"That's the right way to do it," said Minor, who has produced numerous Super Bowl pregame performances and is the music director for "American Idol." "There's too many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist go live because the slightest glitch would devastate the performance."

Apparently, more and more artists agree. Lip-syncing, once considered an industry taboo, has become expected for pop stars like Britney Spears, who are better known for their performances and personality than their singing ability. But, surprisingly, it has also become de rigueur for some of the best singers and musicians who perform at high-stakes live events such as the Super Bowl.

Robert Levine, executive editor of Billboard magazine, doesn't see anything wrong with that.

"If Bruce Springsteen flubs a line on 'Born to Run' only his fans will notice," he said. "If Jennifer Hudson flubs on the national anthem, people are going to get upset. People want it to be technically perfect as well as emotionally inspiring. Can you guarantee that live? Maybe. But it's good to have insurance."

The NFL certainly thinks so. According to "The Making of the Super Bowl: The Inside Story of the World's Greatest Sporting Event" by former league executive director Don Weiss, the NFL has required performers to have a backup track since 1993, when country crooner Garth Brooks threatened to leave the stadium minutes before he was scheduled to perform unless NBC played his new video. Brooks had previously refused to prerecord the anthem, which meant the league had nothing to play in his place if he left.

Ultimately the show's executive producer agreed to play a portion of Brooks' video if the NFL would agree to roll back the kickoff time by three minutes. Weiss did and Brooks' performance went on without a hitch. And the league made a backup recording a requirement.

Before then, some stars were electing to use a prerecorded track at high-profile events. They include a performance many singers consider the benchmark -- Whitney Houston.

Houston's unforgettable rendition of the anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl, during the first Gulf War, set the standard that most singers have tried to top. But that performance, which was also in Tampa, was lip-synced as well, according to the AP.

In previous years most performers could still elect to go live -- the NFL provides live microphones on the stadium floor -- but they must have a backup recording.

Levine believes such revelations should not take away from Houston's or Hudson's performances. "It's a prerecording of her," he said about Hudson. "The 'fakeness' is that it's not really live, not that it's not really her."

It's also possible, however, to enhance a prerecording with equipment that corrects for pitch problems, though it's unlikely that Hudson would need it.

Having a backup track to sing to may also have been a comfort to Hudson, who was giving her first public performance since the October murders of three of her family members. Appearing trimmer in slim, black pants, a flowing white top and cropped jacket, Hudson took a deep breath before launching into the anthem.

"This was such an important performance, because it's the first time everyone has seen Jennifer," Minor, the pregame show producer, told AP. "But she's in such a great place, with such great spirits and time can heal her wounds. She's on fire right now and totally grounded."

While Hudson's performance has been widely praised, some people commenting on MTV's message boards were disappointed to discover it had been lip-synced.

"I don't think people are really upset about the lip-syncing; they are upset about being fooled," Levine said. "You feel like the joke is on you. And no one likes to have the joke on them."

Levine believes producers of live events ought to offer audiences a disclaimer, such as "portions of this program have been prerecorded."

There were similar rumblings last month after the revelation that the classical quartet led by Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman played along to an earlier recording of the piece for President Obama's inauguration.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Perlman's rep defended the musicians' decision to rely on the recording.

"Mr. Perlman was deeply honored to be a part of the inauguration ceremony," his rep wrote. "The brutal cold created the distinct possibility of broken or out of tune instruments and, in order to avoid a weather-related issue detracting from the majesty of the day, a decision was reached to play along to the recording that the quartet had made earlier in the week."

There will be some who still believe live events such as the inauguration and the Super Bowl demand live performances. But as long as there is an increasing expectation for perfection, the prerecorded track and lip-syncing will live on.

Check out some other performances that stirred scandal and the verdict on whether each artist committed what many fans regard as the greatest onstage sin of all: lip-syncing.

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