Welcome to The Ringer’s weekly coverage of The Masked Singer, Fox’s new singing competition series that makes a disconcertingly compelling argument that we live in the darkest timeline. Based on a popular Korean program, the show is Black Mirror’s “Fifteen Million Merits” by way of Stanley Tucci’s wardrobe in The Hunger Games. The basic idea is that behind 12 masked singers—including but not limited to: a deer, hippo, alien, unicorn, and poodle, all adorned with costumes that look like they were designed by Sam Neill’s character in Event Horizon—is a celebrity, and it’s up to the audience at home and a panel of fellow “celebrities” (Robin Thicke, noted anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong, and Nicole Scherzinger) to guess who’s behind the mask as a contestant is eliminated each week. Let’s go through the biggest moments—including our first double unmasking—from Wednesday night’s penultimate episode, “Semi Finals: Double Unmasking.”
The Highlights (and Lowlights)
I’ve got an important confession to make this week. I’m beginning to believe in a higher power—one that doesn’t want The Masked Singer and any coverage around it to exist. The proof? Wednesday night, while watching and taking notes during the penultimate episode of the season—a double unmasking for the semifinal round, how exciting!—I began to feel a weird sensation in my arm. My fingers began to feel numb, and then my wrist, and then all the way up through my forearm. No joke, I started getting carpal tunnel in the midst of covering this gloriously silly show. What deity hath cursed me?
Even as I type up this recap, I’m in a decent amount of pain. It feels only right. We have brought this abomination—C-list celebrities putting on surreal costumes from the darkest recesses of H.P. Lovecraft’s mind—upon ourselves, week after week, unable to resist the temptation of knowing who’ll be unmasked in front of a (possibly drugged) live studio audience. When all this is over, I need to ask forgiveness for my sins in spreading The Masked Singer like a content plague and maybe douse my body with a gallon of holy water. But for the time being, let’s move onto the semifinals.
The five remaining contestants performed this week—Peacock, Lion, Bee, Rabbit, and Monster—in front of our four judges, along with celebrity guest panelist Kenan Thompson, extending his entertainment portfolio outside of Saturday Night Live, All That, and Kenan and Kel. Thompson’s inclusion this week was an interesting wrinkle, as this was the first time that a guest judge showed up who was also previously theorized as one of the masked contestants. Yes, really. It was Ken Jeong who’d posited that Thompson was the Monster, which seemed ridiculous once they were sitting beside each other watching the Monster perform, but considering the other guesses for the contestant have been Lil Jon and, this week, Russell Crowe and Sean Penn, at least he was somewhat on the right track. Because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Monster is definitely T-Pain and may go on to win this whole damn thing.
But even with the contestant pool down to five, the judges couldn’t resist a few preposterous guesses. If you thought tagging Crowe and Penn for the Monster was absurd—especially after the contestant’s moving rendition of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” was hailed as “Grammy-worthy,” and really, has anyone on the panel heard Crowe sing in Les Miserables?—Jenny McCarthy threw out a wild theory for the Rabbit. Maybe the Rabbit is, she suggested, her own husband, Donnie Wahlberg.
McCarthy has made this guess before, but I think most of us presumed she was kidding the first time. Her most tangible proof was that her hubby doesn’t answer the phone whenever the Rabbit is performing (and presumably when he’s backstage), but good grief, wouldn’t you know whether your own husband was performing on the competition series you signed up to judge? What does it say about their marriage that she could think, “Yeah, my husband could do a singing contest behind my back”? Jenny, Donnie, it seems like you guys need to open up more to each other.
On the bright side, the panel wasn’t being hyperbolic about the Monster putting on a legitimately great performance with “Stay With Me.” That shit was powerful. And while the rational side of my brain knows that this is probably T-Pain, sweating profusely under a giant costume in a very specific form of torture, the Monster is just so damn adorable. He even combed over his little Monster hair and wore a suit to look fancier for the occasion—and no, you’re the one who’s crying over a fuzzy celebrity in a costume with a cyclops eye!
The crowd—and at least judge Nicole Scherzinger—did, in fact, cry hearing the Monster’s swooning vocals, because that’s how deeply affecting the performance was. (Second reminder that the audience may very well be drugged.) In hindsight, I’m thrilled that nobody on the judges panel has picked up on the T-Pain clues. It’s going to be really funny if the Monster defeats the Bee—who could very well be living legend Gladys Knight—in The Masked Singer finale. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
We’ve got a three-peat montage winner on our hands with the Monster, who seems to be playing trippy montage chess while the rest of the contestants play trippy montage checkers. The Masked Singer knows it has an aesthetically weird creature on its hands: The Monster’s, uh, body is extremely rectangular, which resembles Kingpin in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. He has a giant, googly green eye that peers directly into your soul. He has stolen Freddie Mercury’s front teeth. And now, per the latest montage, he is also very competitive in Monopoly.
I have many questions. Why does the Monster have his own, Monster-branded version of Monopoly? Why was he so angry with his bodyguard buds? What does he have against sliced bagels? Has the Monster been affected by late capitalism as much as humans have? Since he was so angry, did the Monster eat the bodyguards?
I hope to get answers to all of these questions and more in next week’s finale, since the Monster survived, along with Bee and Peacock—which means our two eliminated contestants were the Rabbit and Lion. The Rabbit, I understood: His rendition of the Temptations’ “My Girl” was tepid by the high standards of the semifinal round and even drew a rare bit of criticism from the judges panel, when Scherzinger said he lacked stage presence. (The crowd, no lie, let out a collective gasp when she said this, probably since it was the first time a judge actually judged the singers on the merits of their, well, singing.) The Lion, meanwhile, seems like a victim of the double-elimination requirement more than anything. She did a good-enough job with Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” that would’ve easily survived the earlier rounds, but the competition is just so intense now. The Bee, the Peacock, and especially the Monster knocked it out of the park this week—compared with them, the Lion did not.
And the Rabbit and Lion Are …
Let’s first talk about the Lion, who had our judges fairly stumped for the majority of the competition. There were some vague hints that she was a member of Destiny’s Child, leading to a couple of guesses that she was Kelly Rowland, while the prominence of the word “Hailey” in several of the clue packages had Scherzinger guessing Hailee Steinfeld. (She probably didn’t know Steinfeld spells her first name differently, but in fairness, the judges don’t have the internet like we do.) The panel also inadvertently shaded Steinfeld by saying the singer was too good to be an actress—and excuse me, put some respect on Steinfeld’s singing career. As the proud owner of a Hailee Steinfeld Bumblebee sweatshirt from the official Hailee Steinfeld store, my queen can do both.
But I’m getting off track: Nobody correctly guessed the Lion’s identity all season: Rumer Willis.
Yes, that’d be Bruce Willis’s daughter, best known for winning the 20th season of Dancing With the Stars and a run on Broadway with Chicago. As for all the “Hailey” clues? Well, she was raised in Hailey, Idaho. The gist of her inspiration for competing: She wanted to be known for more than her dancing, and her impressive singing throughout The Masked Singer made it clear she’s got the vocals to match her excellent stage moves. But of course she does. She comes from a very musically inclined family:
Then there’s the Rabbit. Previous clues suggested he was a former boy band member—possibly in ’NSync, and given the Rabbit’s slightly pudgy yet charismatic presence, I had a feeling he was Joey Fatone. The judges eventually picked up on the Fatone Scent—a real term I will never stop using, no matter how many people tell me to delete my account—and Robin Thicke and Scherzinger went with him as their final guesses. McCarthy, either not taking The Masked Singer seriously enough or making a damning and public indictment of her domestic life, went with Donnie Wahlberg. And yeah, no. It was Joey Fatone.
“What the fuck am I doing?” Fatone said with a smile after unmasking, speaking for all of us.
We’re now down to three masked contestants and one two-hour finale. The Masked Singer has taken over our lives—and apparently cursed my wrist—but we’re finally, blessedly approaching the endgame. Who’s to say what could happen next week: a shocking identity we didn’t expect? A surprise cameo? The return of former competitors? The onset of some prophesied, widespread apocalypse? There’s only one way to find out: by watching the world burn to the ground next Wednesday night.