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Masked Singer will fake its audience—even more than it already did

The Masked Singer season four is in production, which will likely bring Fox’s break-out reality competition hit back before 2020 is over. But there will be some changes: with its studio audience and voting.

The show will be filming audience reactions, but with people who won’t actually be watching any performances. Yes, the production will be staging its studio audience, and asking them to pretend to be actors—well, more than it already did its first three seasons.

On Thursday, The Masked Singer “went back in production today at Red Studios in Hollywood with rigorous health and safety protocols in place,” Deadline reported. “Rigorous” might be a little generous, since that includes “taking regular temperatures,” which isn’t that useful. Meanwhile, the Australian version shut down production last week after several crew members tested positive.

At least the Fox show is doing good by making its Emmy campaign into encouragement for mask wearing:

The Masked Singer's Emmy FYC campaign has put masks on things in Hollywood, like this dinosaur at Ripley's Believe It Or Not
The Masked Singer’s Emmy FYC campaign has put masks on things in Hollywood, like this dinosaur at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (Photo by Frank Micelotta/FOX/PictureGroup)

There’s a major change that comes along with that: “fans will have the chance to influence the outcome of the show,” Deadline reports. “Viewers at home will have a chance to vote on their favorite performances as part of a virtual audience. The votes, as to which costumed singer they would like to see again, will help determine who goes through.”

In the past, the entire show has been pre-taped, with the live studio audience making all decisions. That allowed the entire season If viewers are determining the results, that might mean the show will be filmed more in real time than in the past, like Dancing with the Stars or American Idol.

As BuzzerBlog noticed, a casting call said the show is “looking for featured audience members to be in the background for audience reaction shots for Fox’s The Masked Singer.” The taping is scheduled for Aug. 23, in Chatsworth, Calif., and audience members will be tested first.

While those audience members will receive $650, there’s a key disclaimer: “You will not see the actual show!” Instead, they will spend the day “shooting reaction shots.”

Footage from those audience members shown on TV will actually be composited together to make them look like they’re a normal audience. Fox reality TV executive Rob Wade told Deadline the show would be using “virtual reality and composite and reaction shots” in order “to create the feeling that there were people in the room.”

Update: Read more about how The Masked Singer creates its fake, virtual audience.

It also seems like The Masked Singer is using footage of the studio audience from previous seasons.

What is real and what is fake about The Masked Singer’s audience

Johnny Weir was unmasked as Egg on the season two premiere of The Masked Singer.
Johnny Weir was unmasked as Egg on the season two premiere of The Masked Singer—but while the studio audience knew Egg was eliminated, they only pretended to react when Egg took off his mask. (Photo by Michael Becker/FOX)

In order to protect the identity of The Masked Singer contestants—you know, at least until the clues are broadcast and Twitter figures out who the person is immediately—while still having a studio audience, the production involves a lot of security, secrecy, and fakery.

During filming of season three earlier this year, a Good Housekeeping writer attended a taping, which began with audience members locking away their cell phones. Then a warm-up comedian had the studio audience do “cheesy pre-recorded chants for the Banana and the other Group B characters (Elephant, Kitty, Mouse, Taco, and Frog).”

The chanting and cheering for the contestants happened before the contestants came out on stage, and even before the judges arrived at their table.

But that’s not all of the staging of audience reactions that happens. The studio audience watches the actual performances, and even finds out which costumed character has been eliminated.

In the studio, Good Housekeeping reports, The Who’s song “‘Who Are You?’ starts playing, and we all stand up, emphatically yelling ‘TAKE IT OFF!’ as the contestant wrestles with their mask. A camera person runs on stage to capture a closeup of the eliminated character struggling with the headpiece.” That’s when “the music stops and the masked person ceases to move. Nick and the contestant then walk off” stage.

But the audience is not done yet. They have to pretend that they’ve just seen who was behind the mask: “another audience warm-up comedian is going to act out the reveal, and when he raises his hands, everyone has to act like we’re shocked to discover who’s behind the mask,” Kayla Keegan explained.

During season 3, the Astronaut—Hunter Hayes—performs in front of The Masked Singer's live studio audience
During season 3, the Astronaut—Hunter Hayes—performs in front of The Masked Singer’s live studio audience. (Photo by Michael Becker/FOX)

Once the studio audience is cleared out, a smaller, VIP-only audience—family members, for example—stays behind to see the actual reveal. All of these pieces are edited together to make it seem like the full studio audience is actually there, but they are long gone.

During the show’s first seasons, I’ve noticed that the editors re-use audience reaction shot more than once: showing the same person making the exact same face, but in a different performance or even a different episode. That makes the reactions even more disconnected from what happens on stage.

All of this isn’t exactly a big secret. The Daily Mail reported that, for the Australian version, even crew members had to leave: “production staff weren’t exempt from the rule, with cameramen and sound operators also being told to leave the set.” Host Osher Günsberg said, “In the control room, they basically hit record on the machines and walked out. We didn’t even have a photographer!”

The U.S. version’s producers have been equally transparent. Vox‘s Emily VanDerWerff interviewed executive producer Craig Plestis last year, and reported this:

“Nondisclosure agreements for all audience members were involved, but the show also shuttled out most of the audience from the venue before each episode’s final unmasking, leaving behind just a small crew of people who worked on the show or were attached to that week’s mystery celebrity. So each reveal took place in front of a skeleton audience.

The final unmaskings you see on TV are carefully crafted via judicious editing, as many of the audience members looking on in shock and surprise weren’t even present when the singers finally emerged from beneath their elaborate costume heads. That may contribute to the overcaffeinated, jittery feel of the editing.”

Still, it’s kind of amazing to me that, for The Masked Singer season 4, they’re going to film a studio audience that doesn’t get to see anything.

It’s one thing to pretend to react to Frog taking off its mask. It’s another to pretend to react to absolutely nothing, because you don’t get to see any performances at all.

Here’s the full ad for background audience members:

Tapes in Chatsworth, CA!

WE ARE LOOKING FOR FEATURED BACKGROUND AUDIENCE MEMBERS FOR THE MASKED SINGER!

RATE: $650 // If all hours and services required are completed, audience members will be eligible to receive up to $650.

CASTING INFO: We are looking for FEATURED AUDIENCE MEMBERS to be in the background for AUDIENCE REACTION SHOTS for Fox’s The Masked SingerYou will not see the actual show! To apply, you need to be available for 1 DAY of shooting reaction shots, PLUS take the provided Covid test (given same day)! This is non-union. You will be paid through Production Payroll! 

In order to attend this taping, you must complete any and all required documentation as determined by the producer in its sole discretion, including, without limitation, a nondisclosure agreement and audience release form.

SHOW DESCRIPTION:THE MASKED SINGER features celebrities facing off against one another with one major twist: each singer is shrouded from head to toe in an elaborate costume, complete with full face mask to conceal his or her identity. Ken Jeong, Jenny McCarthy, Nicole Scherzinger and Robin Thicke serve on the panel and play detective, alongside host Nick Cannon.

You must be 18 years old or older to attend this taping (other terms and conditions apply). After your request is submitted, some members, NOT ALL, will receive an E-Ticket prior to the taping. Check your email 2-3 days before the show to see if your request was accepted. 

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.