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 from Wednesday night’s finale, “The Final Mask Is Lifted.”
The Highlights (and Lowlights)
Oceans are beginning to dry, frogs are falling from the sky, and locusts are devouring the earth’s vital crops, which can mean only one thing: We have reached the end of The Masked Singer. My local pastor, Ernst Toller, tried to warn us of such a cataclysmic event last year, openly pondering whether God will forgive us for our sins. Have we brought forth eternal damnation, courtesy of washed celebrities performing in garish costumes? Well, for the past 12 hours all the water in my household has turned into blood, so I guess we’ll find out soon enough!
We were down to three finalists: Bee, Monster, and Peacock. With two hours of runtime to fill, and only three performers, I wondered: How would The Masked Singer pull this off? Would each contestant be required to sing several times? Would eliminated contestants make one final appearance? Would there be an announcement midway through the competition that the first annual Purge is commencing at midnight?
Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything as compelling as all that. The first hour of the finale wasn’t really the finale: It was a recap of all the events, and all the eliminated singers that made The Masked Singer such an unforgettable, surreal journey. I can understand why The Masked Singer elected to do this—it served as a helpful primer for somebody who maybe overheard their friends or coworkers talking about this dystopian nightmare and didn’t have time to catch up before Wednesday night. But for the rest of us, the ones who’ve permanently lost their souls witnessing the horrors of this series, that hour was, for the most part, a waste of time. I didn’t really need to be reminded of former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw perspiring profusely under a Lynchian Deer costume—not after finally getting that image out of my dreams.
There were, however, a few fun tidbits packed into the first hour. For one, the identities of the masked contestants were kept under lock and key: Even the celebrities’ friends and publicists were required to cover their faces if they came to visit them on the set. More than one masked singer earnestly compared the level of secrecy to a White House security detail, implying they somehow know the minutiae of what life is like in the Secret Service. Also, the Bee explained that, after her first performance on the show, she had the Masked Singer costume department open up her “mouth hole” because she had a hard time singing through it. Since the Bee was probably Gladys Knight, it was imperative that this show made sure one of the greatest living performers could properly perform—and most importantly, breathe—and I appreciate their efforts to accommodate her request.
But enough of that: Let’s move on to the actual finale. It opened with all the previously eliminated contestants performing, except I’m pretty sure … none of the axed celebrities were actually there. These masked singers were imposters. None of the eliminated performers removed their masks again, an action unbefitting of Masked Singer contestants, who are our thirstiest breed of celebrity. Are you telling me the Hippo, who was star wide receiver Antonio Brown, wouldn’t use this as an excuse to show off his pristine abs again?
Thankfully, when we got to the finalists’ performances, the show finally lived up to its potential. The Masked Singer is at its best when it leans into the absurdity of the entire spectacle and the wires get crossed in your brain when you hear legitimately great vocals from, like, a famous person in a giant Peacock costume. (The Peacock was very on-brand this week, opting for Ray Charles’s “Shake a Tail Feather.”) It was hard to pick a favorite performance—all three finalists clearly have talent, and had an earnest desire to win. But while the Peacock rocked and the Bee’s rendition of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was soulful and elegant, the Monster continued to hold the key to my heart. He is so cute, so fluffy, and by god he—and by “he” I mean T-Pain, as I’ve been convinced from day one—can sing. And by performing Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” he also came the closest to his actual persona (assuming it is T-Pain), and clearly won over the crowd in the process. The audience started chanting “Monster! Monster!” It was equal parts endearing and disturbing.
Also—and again, I understand this is probably T-Pain in a fuzzy, rectangular costume—when the Monster showed off his little happy feet, my arms involuntarily started shaking because HE IS SO DARN ADORABLE.
“I love him so much he’s making me cry,” Jenny McCarthy said and, well, same. What has this show done to me?
Monster avoided a four-peat for this superlative in the finale, mostly because it appeared that the show recycled old footage of the contestant stalking some nondescript desert in all his fuzzy glory. (If I’m not mistaken, the idea behind the Monster character is that he lives in a cave in the middle of nowhere, emerging from his hideout to sing for us, which would sound horrifying if he weren’t so cute.) But that didn’t mean the finale was totally bereft of trippiness. Let’s give a shout-out to the Bee for … whatever this series of events was supposed to be:
I’m not sure what I like more: the Bee having a slumber party with her security detail—who seem to be legally required to wear sunglasses at all times—or playing Ring Around the Rosie with four random children. Aren’t these montages technically supposed to include clues to the singer’s identity? WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH GLADYS KNIGHT?
No matter, there are no more clues to be had, since we finally reached the end of the Masked Singer line—scientists, has the doomsday clock struck midnight? Since all three singers are enormously talented, it felt like the voting came down to a matter of personal preference. With that in mind, the Bee was the first singer eliminated, with the Monster being declared the winner against the Peacock thereafter. That means, of course, that all three contestants were unmasked in short order—let’s not waste another moment.
And the Bee, Peacock, and Monster Are …
So, the Bee. It was quite obvious for those watching at home—as it was for the judges’ panel—who the contestant really was. Every judge, including guest panelist Kenan Thompson, picked Gladys Knight, except for Ken Jeong, who insisted on Anita Baker. (Ken didn’t really have a lot of evidence to support his theory, I think he was just clamoring for attention.) And while the unmasking wasn’t exactly a surprise when Knight officially unveiled herself to the crowd, it was still legitimately breathtaking.
That is a living legend, under a goddamn Bee costume, bowing out gracefully from a singing competition in third place. “We should strive to do different kinds of things because they elevate us eventually,” she said, explaining her thought process behind signing up for the show. It definitely looked like she had a blast, mixing in modern pop hits from artists like Miley Cyrus and Sia with soulful work from Aretha Franklin and Bonnie Raitt.
And now, on to the Peacock. He gave a lot of hints implying he was a child prodigy who has dabbled in magic tricks, performed in front of royalty, and done shows in Las Vegas. (Clearly, someone quite famous.) The panel was stumped, picking between Donny Osmond (McCarthy), Neil Patrick Harris (Ken and Nicole Scherzinger), and [squints] Weird Al Yankovic (Robin Thicke and Thompson). Thicke came way out of left field picking Weird Al, because the Peacock said that he covered “Blurred Lines” in some capacity. Weird Al did, sure, but pretty much everybody was parodying that song in 2013. Anyway, the Peacock turned out to be Donny Osmond.
He said he did the show because “it’s fun,” which, fair enough. Osmond also flexed that he’s been flying back to Vegas to perform every evening he’s done the show—and we get it, man, you’re talented. His presence was probably defined by the first song he ever performed, “The Greatest Show,” from The Greatest Showman. Because he is, indeed, a great showman.
That leaves us with just the Monster, the winner of The Masked Singer’s inaugural season. But before we get to his unmasking, I would just like to point out how adorable his reaction to winning was. My heart!
The judges have been stumped about the Monster throughout the series—and once again, the guesses were all over the place. Thicke thought he could be Jamie Foxx, McCarthy went with [checks notes, replays the clip several times] Michael Vick, Ken opted for Darius Rucker, Scherzinger guessed Cee Lo Green, and Kenan Thompson posited he could be Tyrese Gibson because he’s “been emotional lately,” which was pretty good. But who was the Monster? I’ve been telling you since day one, and writing his name on every inch of my apartment walls (I’m fine, don’t worry). Folks, the Monster was T-Pain.
To recap: T-Pain, lord of Auto-Tune, just defeated Gladys Knight and Donny Osmond in a singing competition, and I don’t think anyone would argue that he didn’t deserve it? He consistently floored the audience with stellar performances, mixing in a variety of genres in the process—from Gavin DeGraw and Queen to Sam Smith. T-Pain said he did this competition to validate his abilities as a singer, which I guess means not enough people watched his Tiny Desk Concert in 2014.
I’m genuinely happy for him—Knight or Osmond winning would’ve been an acceptable ending, too, but of the three singers, this win probably means the most to an artist who may well be looking to evolve and be taken more seriously. (Naturally, he just released an album to celebrate the occasion; he should drop another that’s just a collection of all his Masked Singer performances.)
And that wraps up The Masked Singer, a surreal journey into the darkest recesses of celebrity culture and our own souls. Suffice it to say I can’t wait for the next season to melt my brain—that is, assuming we all survive God’s biblical punishment for creating this monstrosity in the first place. So long as T-Pain’s new album is streamable in hell, I suppose that’s a fair trade-off.