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.
From the moment Kanye West got on the mic at "SNL" in December, it was clear something wasn't right. Levine speculated that West's weak voice had to do with a glitch in the auto-tune feature many artists use to stay on pitch while recording in the studio and rocking out live.
"Auto-tune allows you to hit every note perfectly," Levine said. "You're not going to be sharp or flat. I think the effect wasn't fully realized, [the auto-tune] might have been set up wrong. But it's foolish to suggest he was lip-syncing. If he were lip-syncing, it would've sounded exactly the way he wanted it to."
But even if West didn't lip-sync, Tyler Gray, Blender magazine's senior editor, isn't letting him off the hook.
"He was cheating," Gray said. "At the end of the day, did he make up for that lackluster element of his performance with something that balanced it out? I don't really think so. It was neat visuals, but the music wasn't quite up to par."
"In the beginning, he got an A for effort because he was trying to break the mold," Gray said, referring to West's branching out from typical hip-hop techniques. "But the effort grade only goes so far. Now, he actually has to sound good. And he didn't. He sounded like a bad talent show."
With pop stars like Britney Spears, it's all but expected that lip-syncing will go hand in hand with a live performance. Levine called it an open secret in the music industry, the product of audiences expecting artists to sound the same on albums and onstage.
Do Fans Come to Hear Britney or See Britney?
"Traditionally, jazz and opera had singers who were technically great singers, whereas in rock you had singers," Levine said. "But if they were a little sharp or a little flat, t no one really cared because they weren't expected to be perfect. As pop music becomes more artificially perfect, kids who grew up on that aesthetic want that perfection. When you're used to everything being on pitch, you don't want to hear anything else."
As a result, stars like Spears often perform with backup tracks to ensure they sound as perky and on pitch onstage as they do on their albums, after producers spend hours fine-tuning their voices.
Spears' November performance of "Womanizer" on the U.K. TV show "The X Factor" was panned by critics because she reportedly lip-synced, although "X Factor" judge Simon Cowell didn't seem to mind. The "American Idol" mainstay gave the rebounding pop icon a standing ovation after her gig.
Levine believes fans should stop expecting everything from Spears and her ilk.
"No one is going to go see Britney because she's a great musician," he said. "She's a good singer but she's a personality. She's a phenomenon. She's not an artist, she's a pop star."
But Tyler argued that Spears could up the ante, saying her "dancing is pretty physical, but it's not so grueling that she shouldn't be able to sing as well."
Unlike Spears, Madonna's routine on her Sticky & Sweet world jaunt and on tours past is more suited to marathon runners than musicians.
The 50-year-old queen of pop performs high kicks and running jumps as she bounds across stage, yet never seems to struggle for breath. It's a telltale sign she's probably performing with a backup voice track.
"If you look at the way pop stars perform, the way they're twirling, running, being carried, dancing on the stripper pole upside down, they can't possibly be singing every word of every verse," Levine said. "A lot of times it's blended. They might be singing with a safety net. Any pop singer putting on a full dancing show is not singing every word in those songs. The fact that they're not breathing hard should be enough to clue you in."
At London's annual Q Awards show in 2004, Elton John bashed the pop star for not performing up to par on her Re-Invention tour, saying, "Madonna, best f-- live act? F**k off. Since when has lip-syncing been live? Anyone who lip-syncs in public onstage when you pay [about $169 per ticket] to see them should be shot."
Madonna Denies Lip-Syncing
Liz Rosenberg, the Material Girl's publicist, shot back, "Madonna does not lip-sync, nor does she spend her time trashing other artists. She sang every note of her Re-Invention tour live and is not ashamed that she was paid well for her hard work."
The debate didn't stop there. In an attempt to help out his pop star friend, actor Rupert Everett added fuel to the fire, telling the British media, "Madonna sings everything she can sing. ... But, if she goes into a dance routine, she's got to dance. You can't breathe and dance and sing at the same time."
Some stars couldn't cry libel or count on their celeb friends for defense when it comes to lip-syncing accusations.
Ashlee Simpson, the pop-punk younger sister of Jessica Simpson, learned that after her headline-making October 2004 blunder on "Saturday Night Live."
Attempting to perform "Autobiography," her second song of the night, Simpson found herself singing along to the music and lead vocals of her first song "Pieces of Me."
She held the microphone at her side as her canned voice boomed across the studio, danced an awkward jig and then ran off the stage as the vocal recording was shut off and NBC cut away to a commercial.
At the end of the show, "SNL" host of the night Jude Law quipped, "What can I say? Live TV." Simpson, standing next to him, blamed the mishap on her musicians. "My band started playing the wrong song," she said. "I didn't know what to do, so I thought I'd do a hoedown."
A statement issued by Geffen Records, Simpson's label, claimed there was "a computer glitch," while a representative for the show said that the song that came up was a backing track.
The following Monday, Simpson called into MTV's "Total Request Live" and explained that because of complications arising from "severe" acid reflux she had lost her voice and that her doctor had advised her not to sing.
But the incident tarnished Simpson's rep for months. In January 2005, Simpson performed "La La" during the halftime show for the Orange Bowl in Miami and got boos from the crowd of more than 70,000 spectators.
Simpson attempted to build credibility in '05 with a U.S.-Canada tour that she described to reporters as "stripped down," without effects like pyrotechnics, just "me and my band getting out there and having fun."
Then there are the lip-sync scandals that taint an act for life. In 1989, the dreadlocked duo from Deutschland were performing their hit "Girl You Know It's True" during an MTV-recorded show in Bristol, Conn., when their vocal track began to skip. While fans at the concert didn't seem to care, critics took note and began questioning the merits of Milli Vanilli members Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan.
Lip-Syncing No Longer Shocking
A year later, in November 1990, media scrutiny led the group's manager to reveal that Milli Vanilli didn't actually sing on their Grammy and American Music Award-winning records.
Four days later, the band's 1990 best new artist Grammy was withdrawn. Arista Records dropped the duo from its roster and deleted their album from their catalog, taking "Girl You Know It's True" out of print.
Despite subsequent albums and attempts at a comeback, Milli Vanilli never shed its status as one of pop music's most legendary cautionary tales, an example never to be repeated by reputable artists.
But nearly two decades after the Milli Vanilli debacle, Levine said, lip-syncing is still going strong.
"Years ago, when it was revealed that Milli Vanilli was lip-syncing, it was practically a scandal. People were honest to God shocked," he said. "These days, anyone who's the least bit surprised by this is really naive."