The biggest mystery of “The Masked Singer” isn’t "who’s singing?" but "who agreed to do this show?"
An odd Korean import, the Fox reality show suggests major celebrities want to go on a singing competition in a costume that looks like something from a “Twin Peaks” rave.
There’s the singing aspect, of course. But would Lady Gaga really want to subject herself to a chanting crowd and four panelists looking to make a quick joke?
We can almost bet Gaga isn’t behind one of the bizarre masks, but she was name-checked on the first episode – as were several A-level athletes and actors.
To keep audience interest high, the show’s producers plant clues (“I crave attention”) and drop names (“Michael Jackson told me…”) but don’t have a master list of those who could possibly be in hiding.
As a result, the panelists (Robin Thicke, Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong and Nicole Scherzinger) take wild stabs at their identity. At one point, Allen Iverson, Deion Sanders and Odell Beckham were their guesses. At another, Scary Spice and Meghan Markle got attention.
While it’s unlikely the Royal Family would let its new daughter-in-law tromp around in a costume, stranger things have happened. And that’s what “The Masked Singer” is betting on.
The singing aspect? That’s secondary. A group of dancers (not unlike the dance group Pilobolus) trot around while the hidden celeb tries to maneuver a microphone and a head piece that looks like it should be mounted and hung on a wall.
The music isn’t bad – even though the “singing” panelists try too hard to flex their musicology. Disguised voices don’t help; sometimes mere movement is what’s needed to tip the scales.
Still, the show has a fairly laissez-faire premise: Celebrities sing, panelists guess, someone goes home. This is like a 1950s game show where the prize is you get to be on TV.
Producers have touted the number of Grammy nominations earned by the contestants. If that’s the case, why are they doing this? Because they left a group? Because their careers have stalled? Because they want “Dancing with the Stars” attention?
Until all are unmasked, it’s unclear why this, why now?
What is a given is the surprise element. The costumes are quite elaborate and they, alone, would be worth an episode – who makes them, how confining are they, what’s the connection to the star?
Another cloud hangs over the panelists. Are they good at spotting friends at a costume ball? Or were they just available for a quick series that keeps their names in the mix for other work?
Ken Jeong seems like the wild card, since no one has associated him with music. (At least Jenny McCarthy’s husband is one of the New Kids on the Block.) He tries to be funny but, often, it’s Scherzinger’s surprised looks that get the laughs.
“The Masked Singer” won’t kick “American Idol” or “The Voice” to the curb. But it could crack the door for a bunch of Korean game shows that exist to see just how far people are willing to go.