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 break down the biggest moments—including our latest unmasking—from Wednesday night’s episode, “Touchy Feely Clues.”
The Highlights (and Lowlights)
Horrifying as The Masked Singer is, it would be foolish to ignore its cultural impact. Its ratings are remarkably strong, especially in the peak age of streaming, confirming that all everyone wanted from their reality singing competitions was “American Idol, but with C-list celebrities and a ton of psychedelics.” Fox knows it’s got a big hit on its hands, which is why—and this is somehow true—the network’s new entertainment chief, Charlie Collier, was introduced at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Wednesday wearing the giant hippo mask previously worn by star NFL wideout Antonio Brown. (If I was in the room, I’d have started checking to make sure all the exits weren’t sealed off.) Except the hippo-man wasn’t Collier, it was [looks at notes, checks coffee for poison] Breaking Bad star Jonathan Banks, who unmasked and then said, “Let this be a cautionary tale about what you would do for a friend.”
Every day, and with every episode of The Masked Singer, we stray further from God’s light. The Masked Singer is so unchecked right now, we’ve got executives asking Mike goddamn Ehrmantraut to wear a hippo mask and parade around a media presentation—and he’s obliging. If that doesn’t belong in the little-known-but-widely-feared Content Circle of Hell, I don’t know what does. I still need to confirm with some of my sources at the Vatican, but I think I can trace all of this back to Valak from the Conjuring Cinematic Universe becoming a media savant. (Valak’s first move was introducing Gritty last year; it’s all connected, I’m telling you!) Anyway, back to the show, I’m definitely OK …
This week, four contestants performed: Monster, Peacock, Bee, and Raven. Like the previous episode, all four masked singers did a group ballad, this time singing the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” before moving on to their individual performances.
That’s all well and good, but I have some gripes with The Masked Singer and the way it’s divvied up its contestants. No offense to last week’s group—Rabbit, Alien, Lion, and Unicorn, who was ultimately eliminated—but this is a considerably better quartet of singers. It’s clear that Monster (who might be T-Pain) and Bee (who might be Gladys Knight) are professionally trained singers, that Peacock is some kind of great showman (but not the greatest showman, Hugh Jackman, who wouldn’t be caught dead doing this), and that Raven is legitimately good, too. Why are we bunching them all together so early? There’s no reason for The Masked Singer to turn one half of its remaining contestant pool into the NBA’s Western Conference.
As a result, all four performances Wednesday night were good-to-great—as was the guesswork by the typically awful judges panel. Robin Thicke smartly picked up on the Gladys Knight vibes from the Bee; Jenny McCarthy is feeling Donny Osmond for the Peacock, and for the first time in my life, I’m inclined to agree with Jenny McCarthy. (Congrats, please vaccinate your children.) The only exception: Nobody has any clue who the Monster is, and this week’s guesses were absolutely maddening.
When the Monster’s clue package included the phrase “swinging” in relation to swinging negativity away—and because the contestant uses a giant microphone during performances—McCarthy became adamant that the Monster was some kind of athlete who uses a golf club or a baseball bat. “He sounds amazing?!” Nicole Scherzinger added during the Monster’s excellent rendition of Lenny Kravitz’s “American Woman,” in a state of bewilderment—and, um, guys, did you forget about the Monster’s performance last time he was on stage? This dude crushed some Gavin McGraw to the point that Thicke inadvertently had a public orgasm. This is not an athlete; there’s no question this person can sing. Nobody has come even close to guessing T-Pain—McCarthy flirted with the idea of Lil Jon, and, WHAT—who I’m wholly convinced is behind the mask. (Just listen to that voice!)
Scherzinger, more than anyone else, was just having a rough week. “You’re a seasoned singer,” she observed to the Bee—who, again, is potentially Gladys Knight and whose first clue package already mentioned that she’s been singing since the 1950s. That’s not much of an observation: The Bee’s version of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” elicited this reaction from the audience:
It’s pretty safe to say this person is a good singer. Great detective work, Scherz.
(I wonder whether Gladys Knight ever, in her wildest nightmares, imagined she’d have to wear a giant bee costume and sing Miley Cyrus.)
Good news: The Alien was not competing this week, which means we weren’t contractually obligated to choose its hallucinogenic montage. It’s always a fun ride, but these superlatives should have a bit more variety. Unfortunately, it seems that The Masked Singer’s montages are losing a bit of their trippy flair, which is a shame. I’m here for the basic thrill of watching famous celebrities sing under ridiculous getups, and montages that look like they were spliced together by an aspiring 12-year-old YouTube vlogger who just mainlined sugar.
Only one candidate really went for the “are the walls of my apartment starting to move?” vibes this week. I’d like to extend my gratitude to the Monster That Is Most Definitely T-Pain for whatever this hellscape was.
Not sure what any of this has to do with being a cuddly-looking, one-eyed Monster, but maybe the creature’s backstory is a lot more insidious than initially expected. That will have to wait at least another week, though, because the Monster was way too good to be eliminated. T-PAIN REFUSES TO GO HOME. (We’re just gonna fully commit to this T-Pain thing, OK?)
Instead, this week the studio audience deemed that the Raven, who performed Sara Bareilles’s “Brave,” was the weakest link. I’m inclined to agree, but again, she’d have had no problems staying alive had she competed against last week’s group. I’m tempted to say there’s a rigged element to The Masked Singer—it’s the Anthony Davis trade request of singing competitions, if you will—but I think it’s a lot simpler than that. This series was clearly designed in hell; it’s only natural of the show to incite chaos by unfairly and unevenly splitting up the talent pool. If you’re upset about this (guilty as charged), that just means they’re winning.
And the Raven Was …
The Raven’s clues hinted that she was a talk-show or radio host, and recently suffered some kind of personal loss. (She also flexed this week about being an Emmy winner, which is a bit of a weird thing to do on a show that involves singing pop songs in elaborate costumes, but hey, that’s so Raven.) Because of this, and based on some of her mannerisms, Thicke guessed that the Raven was former talk-show host Ricki Lake. Scherzinger, continuing her terrible form this week, picked Meghan McCain—which, come on. That was a bad guess. Thicke’s guess, on the other hand ...
First off: I had no idea Lake had these kind of pipes. Second of all, Lake said she signed up for The Masked Singer to honor her late husband, who passed away last year. Many of her songs did have an emotional pull, and many of the judges noticed this was a contestant who seemed to have some highly personal motivations for competing. Still, it doesn’t fully explain how Thicke was able to guess that it was Lake—for all the flak we give the judges, they don’t have the internet as a resource when they’re watching the performances and receiving the clues. Did Thicke know that Lake’s husband had passed away? How is he so up to date on Ricki Lake’s personal life? He explained that he figured it out because he used to watch The Ricki Lake Show growing up, and one thing that gave Lake away was how the Raven would clutch her hand around her heart, which Lake did on her show. Damn, dude, that is perceptive, and a weirdly specific detail to remember. I’m learning a lot about Robin Thicke on this show.
We’re racing toward the finish line on The Masked Singer, which is beginning to resemble American Idol at its peak. The early episodes, thanks to some wackier contestants, were fun, but as they’ve been weeded out the show has become a more legit singing competition. (One big difference between American Idol and The Masked Singer: The former never put Kelly Clarkson in a giant bird costume.) Next week’s episode will also include J.B. Smoove as a guest judge, which is easily the best decision The Masked Singer has made so far. Maybe this dystopian nightmare isn’t so bad—or maybe I’m just in way too deep.