In a bizarre new singing competition, judges have to guess the celebrities performing while wearing fantastical costumes
We should all be truly thankful for the existence of The Masked Singer. Not because it’s enjoyable or fun or even particularly good, but because it very clearly signals the logical endpoint of the televised singing competition.
Of course it does. Once you’ve stuffed Tommy Chong into a pineapple costume and forced him to sing I Will Survive for the entertainment of a prominent anti-vaxxer, where else can you go? Nowhere, that’s where. We’re witnessing an entire genre collapse into electron-degenerate matter, and it’s all thanks to The Masked Singer.
The premise of The Masked Singer, for those unfortunate enough to have missed it, is this. People in costumes perform songs. Behind those costumes are well-known celebrities. Half the fun is trying to guess who the celebrities are, and the other half comes from how the show makes you feel like you just ate a bucket of bad seafood. After Pop Idol (where you saw the singers) and The Voice (where you saw the singers but the judges didn’t), The Masked Singer (where nobody knows who any of the singers are, despite already knowing them) seems like the obvious next step. By withholding their identities, the celebrities simultaneously do and don’t exist. The Masked Singer is a good name; Schrödinger’s Twat would have been a much better one.
What’s most amazing, though, is that this might actually be the best televised singing competition of the last decade. In episode one, we met a giant peacock. In his video introduction, the peacock – through a distorted vocal filter – heavily implied that he was a once-beloved entertainer who’s now on the outs. Then he sang a song from The Greatest Showman, and it was spectacular. We still don’t know who the peacock is, because the show operates on a drip feed of one reveal per week, but I’m convinced that it’s someone with a less than stellar reputation. But by hiding behind a costume, we’re all forced to judge him on his talent alone. It’s a weirdly humbling experience.
But this approach does have its limits. One contestant in the first episode – a giant, furry, one-eyed monster – made it very clear that he was a public hate figure who’d previously made some sort of horrible transgression in his personal life. As he belted out Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, one of the judges wondered aloud whether it was Chris Brown.
Which, you know, isn’t brilliant. Is this how redemption works now? You spend your life behaving abhorrently, only to eventually win the public over by dressing up as a hairy buttplug? It makes you wonder where the line is. How terrible do you have to be before The Masked Singer stops being fun? Would we be OK with Aziz Ansari singing My Sharona dressed as a novelty cactus? Or R Kelly singing My Heart Will Go On dressed as a fork? It is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that Kevin Spacey’s comeback blueprint begins with him belting out a passable Mack the Knife in a giant off-brand Pikachu outfit. We must all link arms and pray this never comes to pass.
I’m also eager to see when or if The Masked Singer will start to feel old. I have a feeling it won’t be long. Because, while the central conceit is unique and the performances are fun, each episode is weighed down with endless padding. We spend so much time watching the judges – Jenny McCarthy, Robin Thicke, Ken Jeong and Nicole Scherzinger – absent-mindedly guessing the identities of the singers like a Through The Keyhole panel after a tranquilliser attack that every episode regularly loses whatever momentum it manages to build up with the songs. Audiences are used to this, because it’s how singing competitions have always operated, but the highs are so high here that the lows are dreadful.
But, hey, I’m in now. I want to know who these singers are, and that means I’ll have to watch every episode of The Masked Singer. You should too, especially if you ever wanted to know what the orgy scene from Eyes Wide Shut would be like if it had a karaoke room.
The Masked Singer is on Fox on Wednesdays in the US