I watched Wednesday’s episode of The Masked Singer with perhaps the most critical audience possible: the Television Critics Association. Fox showed the episode a few hours early so critics could interview the unmasked singer. Even in that room—a ballroom of critics who’ve seen all the shows and heard all the hopes/dreams/lies about the shows—the reveal elicited some visible reactions.
In my coverage of the show, I perhaps have not mentioned enough how fun The Masked Singer can be. Many of the show’s choices have frustrated me, but it’s so easy to get swept into the moment, and the unmasking—whether it’s exactly the person you thought it would be, or someone completely different—is a thrill.
But I do have questions, and so did the room of critics, and so do many of you.
Thanks to Fox’s willingness to put its producers, judges, and the most recently unmasked singer (who’s identified in this piece) on stage for a press conference, we now have a lot of answers.
Did the masked singers know who the others were?
No. Ricki Lake, who was unmasked as Raven this week, said:
“I haven’t had any contact with anyone, and I did not know who anybody else was. We were sequestered for the most part, and whenever we were in the same vicinity, we were completely covered. They were diligent about making sure we had the hoods and the visors and the whole thing.
And, again, I’m so open. I’m such an open book my entire career that for me to have to be, like, private and secret and in disguise, it was a fun task for me. But, no, I have not been in touch with anybody. I’d love to get in touch with Margaret Cho.
That secrecy was maintained through an elaborate process, Ricki explained:
“The car that would pick me up, they did not know my name. When I arrived, they didn’t know what I was going to. The minute I got close to the studio, I was covered. They would make me. It was hot. It was in the summer, and I had to wear this giant hoodie, you know, with the visor, and we would go right into my little honey wagon area, and I would stay there. I didn’t have anyone accompanying me. I was alone. And there was really little interaction, only on the show day, when I would maybe see the Bee from far away, but I did not ever come close.”
If a singer had an entourage—friends, family, staff members—those people were also covered up, so that no one could recognize them.
Did people at Fox know who the singers were?
Fox reality TV executive Rob Wade said that “literally a very small number of us knew, and it was incredibly difficult and still is actually incredibly difficult to keep secret because there’s obviously a few people to still be revealed.”
Only three executives know the singers’ identity: the alternative entertainment team of Wade, Corie Henson, and Claire O’Donohoe.
“Everyone above us and very senior members of the FOX organization didn’t want to know,” Wade said, “because they were terrified that they would give it away.”
Are the masked singers singing live?
Yes, according to the producers—though it’s enhanced.
When asked if there were any vocal effects or auto-tune applied to the performances, executive producer Craig Plestis said,
“The great thing about the show: everyone had to sing live, and they only had one take each. So it really was a monumental feat for everyone to do this and with the masks. It was really difficult designing the masks and getting that great audio level. So it really was all about singing live on the stage. And what you hear, a lot of it is what they got. If there was a big mistake that happened, you’re going to hear it on the stage, you know, in the TV show itself.”
Executive producer Izzie Pick Ibarra said that putting mics in the masks was a challenge: “Some of the masks were very echoey, so we would have to put foam inside so the sound didn’t sound so echoey. We had a lot of audio testing that we did with the masks beforehand. But, as Craig was saying, they all sung live and they had one shot at it.”
Plestis was asked a second time if any vocal effects were used, and he avoided the question by mentioning background singers.
That’s when Nick Cannon stepped in and basically said, yes, the performances are enhanced:
“You gave a good example about the song ‘I Gotta Feeling.’ If you listen to the original version, the way it was produced, it has a lot of auto tune and a lot of effects in it.
So the choices that a lot of the acts get to make with their songs kind of lend themselves to it. I mean, there’s certain songs, especially nowadays, every song has auto tune it.
So if you want to be accurate and sound good and sound like the song, you’re going to have the vocal effects.
So we had a great team of producers and mixers that kind of made them sound exactly or as close to the record as possible.”
Why are the judges so bad at guessing?
While the judges’ poor guesses (Meghan Markle, Lady Gaga) have been dreadful, Wednesday’s episode seemed like we’ve arrived at the point where even these judges are guessing plausibly.
Robin Thicke accurately guessed that Ricki Lake was Raven, noticing that she would put her hand over her heart while talking, just like she used to do on her talk show.
Thicke had similar rationale for guessing that Bee is Gladys Knight, focusing on the way she holds her microphone. Meanwhile, Jenny McCarthy guessed Donny Osmond is the peacock. Both of those seem to match Internet consensus and the clues.
But then there was also this: “What athlete has two teeth?” Nicole Scherzinger asked, thinking Monster’s costume was literal. So yes, their guesses can also still stink.
One reason is that the judges don’t have access to phones or computers to look up clues like we can, though Ken Jeong said that wouldn’t have helped him (“Even with three laptops, I still would not be able get anybody,” he joked).
However, they were given information by the producers—though it was not helpful, because it was about the animals and characters, not the masked singers. Robin Thicke said that producers “told us about what their mating habits are [and] what they eat. So I’m looking at information about peacocks instead of information about the stars themselves.”
Nicole Scherzinger said, “That stuff threw us off.”
Jenny McCarthy said that read too much into certain things because producers told the judges “to pay attention to everything, and sometimes you would over dissect” as a result.
But the most interesting reason I heard came from Robin Thicke, who basically said that they can’t hear well:
“There was this distance from the stage. We were behind. We were up on a riser. You couldn’t always hear the clues very well. Sometimes you couldn’t hear the voices very well unless the song was very broken down. So it took a few performances for some of us to catch our rhythm.”
That seems like something that should be fixed for next season, unless having embarrassing judges is intentional.
Are the judges embarrassed at how bad their guesses are?
Yes! Asked if they watch the show back and think, “What the heck was I thinking?”, the judges agreed.
Robin Thicke said “Sometimes our lack of information is very entertaining” and specifically said that his Judge Judy guess was a bad guess. “And I have a few more. I have a few more coming, terrible,” he said.
Later, he explained his rationale for saying “Judge Judy”:
“With all respect, I got a few right, but I also was the furthest off a handful of times. And if I get to the end and I have really no idea, I can’t pinpoint it, I might just throw out a name that might be humorous or might be over the top. But I was honestly completely lost. When I said Judge Judy, there was no other name that could even come in mind, so I just said, okay. How about Judge Judy? Let’s make it fun.”
Jenny McCarthy told critics that she’s dreading one reveal—though she expressed no embarrassment about the anti-vaccination stuff (please vaccinate your kids and yourself), but I digress:
“I have one coming up that is keeping me up at night because it’s in the last episode that I say. And the entire studio audience goes, ‘What?!’ and turns around and I’m still going, ‘Oh, my God. This still has to air.’
Ken Jeong said his failure to identify his own co-star “was possibly my favorite moment”:
“I’ve never seen my own panic attack being filmed before. Because Poodle with Margaret Cho, that was a genuine time I was stumped. And I remember I just did not want to repeat what Joel McHale was going to say. I was going to kind of double back. I didn’t want three or four judges saying the same thing. And there was a genuine panic that was left on air, like, ‘I I I I I – I’ –- I did not and I forgot who my guess was for Poodle, but that was possibly my favorite moment.”
Jenny McCarthy did make a good point that the producers and editors are including only the guesses they want viewers to hear. She said “we’re spewing out names constantly” and what ends up on screen “depends on what they choose.”
Will there be new judges next season?
I doubt it. When answering a question about ratings, Fox executive Rob Wade went out of his way to praise the judges:
“I think that’s been great, and I think that attests to a great product, a fantastic job, really, this panel has done. You’ve seen the way they’ve gelled, a fantastic job that Nick has done. It’s difficult sitting on a new panel and a bunch of producers saying, ‘Go. Have chemistry. Enjoy yourself.’ But I think, as the shows have gone on, you’ve seen these guys really grow into a family, and I think the viewers are responding to that.”
If Fox thinks that “viewers are responding to” the panel, I don’t think it’ll change, unless one or more of them decide not to return.
And Wade doubled down on his compliments for the judges later:
“From Nick to these four panelists, I think one of the things we looked for as well were just people who are fun, you want to go and have a drink with, who we felt would all get on and who are really going to work hard and love the show, and that’s what these guys do.
… I’m not just saying that as an executive, but it’s rare to find these days. It’s so rare that you can find a group of people out there who are just so passionate about a project, and they are brilliant.
“Brilliant” isn’t the word I’d use, but that’s just me.
Who designed the costumes, and who chose them?
The amazing and impressive and freaky costumes were designed by Marina Toybina, who has previously won Emmys for designing costumes on The X Factor, the Katy Perry Super Bowl halftime show (the one with Left Shark), and the 55th Grammy Awards.
She’s also designed costumes for World of Dance and So You Think You Can Dance, and has a large portfolio of other work.
Masked Singer executive producer Izzie Pick Ibarra told TV critics that the process involved Toybina, the network, and the singers:
“We kind of together, collectively with FOX, came up with a kind of wide selection of characters—types, whether they were animals, insects, birds. And we then basically had those sketched out.
And then the singers could look—could choose from a whole selection of different costumes and look choose the one that spoke to them most.
Or they could choose and ask for something bespoke, which some of them did as well.”
The costumes will change for season two, so there won’t be a new singer in Monster’s costume, for example.
How did the unmasking work?
Before the singer is unmasked, they get to make sure they’ll look good on camera.
“I did get to have hair and makeup beforehand,” Ricki Lake told TV critics.
Ricki said that “the audience was there for the reveal,” but that audience was different for the unmasking.
Executive producer Craig Plestis explained:
“On the production side, everyone had to sign a NDA. Everyone who came to the set, who were in the audience, they had to sign NDAs.
And when we actually had the unmasking, it was the audience itself was mainly composed of friends and family.
We asked everyone also involved on the show, when this was taping, “You are here for something special. This is our first time we are taping it. We hope you keep it quiet. You can tweet and talk about it the day it airs after the unmasking, but you are part of our family now, and we’d ask you to please keep this a secret.”
It’s really hard this day and age, but we can confiscate phones. We did try every kind of piece of lawyer paper possible as well.”
What will change for season two?
It’s not clear yet, but it does seem as though Fox will be making changes. Perhaps none as drastic as the five major changes I’ve proposed, however.
Executive producer Izzie Pick Ibarra told TV critics that “we had a lot of production processes in place for the kind of secrecy that still can remain in place” for a second season, and she said, “I feel confident that we can keep” it secret.
Her fellow EP, Craig Plestis, joked, “There’s going to be a lot more security, though, for the second season. We have contacted the Pentagon already.”
Fox’s Rob Wade said that “we are going into production immediately,” but they’re considering what’s working—and what’s broken and how to fix it:
“We are starting to look every week we start to look at different elements of the show, how the audience is reacting, what’s working, what isn’t working and these guys have been working really hard and to see what changes we can make to season 2.
I think the difference between a scripted show and an unscripted show is an unscripted show, the first season, you really don’t quite know what you are doing. You are playing it from your guts and your heart.”
As to casting, that can’t happen until the production schedule is set, and Fox hasn’t yet decided when to bring the show back for season two.
Wade said they’ll be waiting for the end of the season before deciding when, exactly, it’ll return:
“We do have three or four weeks left, though, and I think we want to see how the audience reacts to that. And then we’ll get together as a big team internally and speak to the producers and really figure out the optimum time to bring it back, because it’s obviously been a big hit and it’s a very important asset to us at Fox.”