By James Hibberd
Updated November 04, 2011 at 08:12 PM EDT
Leroy Bell X 11311
Credit: Fox
Simon Cowell, American Idol
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An X Factor contestant was caught lip syncing by viewers Thursday night.

Scandal? Well, maybe not…

As part of a group number opening the show, contestant Leroy Bell’s performance of David Guetta and Usher’s song “Without You” was clearly not matching the audio track (“Without Singing” would have been a better title). This morning, Fox admitted that X Factor performance numbers that are not judged by Simon Cowell and Co. feature contestants singing over pre-recorded tracks. American Idol, it seems, does the same thing.

Fox and producers released this statement: “All competitive songs, including survival songs, are performed LIVE to a backing track. Due to the finalists’ extensive preparation for their Wednesday night performances, the opening ensemble number on the results show is pre-recorded, the same way as on other shows.”

The revelation brings up the ghost of last year’s UK X Factor scandal where producers admitted using Auto-Tune to make singers sound better.

One production insider noted having contestants lip sync gives viewers a superior experience — singers can do more elaborate choreography and jump around and not worry about hitting every single note perfectly like when they’re actually performing for the judges.

But since the odds of somebody really standing out — or screwing up spectacularly — are much greater if the contestants sang opening numbers live, the “entertainment value” argument seems weak. Isn’t a high-wire act on a reality show inherently more entertaining than an artificially polished performance?

One suspects part of the actual motivation is to make The X Factor crop sound more professional and star-worthy than they really are. Since X Factor is a show that’s all about putting new talent to the test, lip syncing some songs feels like it’s against the spirit of the contest, if not breaking any actual rules. What do you think?

UPDATE: Check out the video below and see for yourself (26 second mark):

Read more on The X Factor:

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Simon Cowell, American Idol

The X Factor

Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, and Paulina Rubio judge Season 3.
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