“You’ve all been guessing me for the past nine seasons!” an amused Anonymouse squeaked on Sunday’s big Masked Singer premiere. After hearing the rock ‘n’ roll rodent channel her inner Ann Wilson to power through Heart’s “What About Love?” — an epic performance that had host Nick Cannon exclaiming, “In 10 seasons, I don’t think we’ve ever had an opening like that!” — the judges knew this “next-level” contestant was a “force of nature,” “an incredibly accomplished singer,” and maybe even “the most powerful voice ever on the show.” But they still weren’t quite getting it right.
The panel’s initial guesses were decidedly un-mousy pop stars like Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink. The show’s resident wrong-guesser, Ken “I Know Exactly Who This Is” Jeong, was absolutely certain it was Lady Gaga. However, Anonymouse didn’t stay anonymous for long.
Eventually the judges — all of the judges except Ken, that is — paid closer attention to the clues, which included a portrait of Camp Rock star Nick Jonas, a Princess Protection Programtiara, the Time 100 list, and a confession that this Disney-After-Dark diva once “struggled with demons on the inside” and was “trapped on the path of wrong decisions” before she “eventually hit rock bottom.”
That was when Nicole Scherzinger, Robin Thicke, and Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg realized that — to quote the title of Anonymouse’s most recent studio album — HOLY FVCK, this was what Robin called “one of the greatest voices and talents of any generation” and what Nick called “one of the biggest stars in the world. It was Demi Lovato.
Sorry not sorry, but judging by the many comments on the sneaky-peak of “What About Love?” that was uploaded to The Masked Singer’s YouTube channel on Aug. 30, Lovatics figured out that this was the “Confident” belter days ago — like, on Aug. 30. As Robin observed of Anonymouse’s distinctive vocals Sunday, “There’s something so soulful and deep about her character and what she has been through, and when she sings, you can hear it.” Fans might have been surprised that a star of Demi’s mega-fame would compete on The Masked Singer in the first place, but they surely weren’t surprised when those Minnie-knockoff ears came off.
But that’s the thing: Demi wasn’t competing, really. This was a specially scheduled non-competitive episode, right after Fox’s NFL Double-Header, to drum up new excitement for the long-running TV franchise, which has dipped in ratings in recent seasons due to a whole bunch of ill-advised format changes and just general viewer fatigue. Demi probably didn’t want to commit to more than one episode — let’s face it, if she did, she’d be a shoo-in to win and thus have to stick around for the entire season. And she obviously wasn’t going to subject herself to the humiliation of being “eliminated” after just one performance, like superstar rapper Lil’ Wayne was on a post-Super Bowl Masked Singer premiere back in 2020. So, this was a win-win: Fox got Demi, and Demi got to have a bit of low low-stakes fun (and of course promote her forthcoming album Revamped, a collection of rock remakes of her greatest hits). It was, as Demi stated Sunday, “the best of both worlds.”
Producers padded the rest of Sunday’s episode with The Masked Singer’s own greatest hits, to impress lookie-loo viewers who hadn’t ever watched the series or the many fairweather fans who haven’t watched a long time. Among the highlights were the series’ all-time most shocking reveals (Dick Van Dyke, Gladys Knight, William Shatner, Kermit the Frog, and self-unmasking forfeiter Mickey Rourke, but no Sarah Palin or Rudy Giuliani), greatest performers (Donny Osmond, LeAnn Rimes, Tori Kelly, T-Pain), and coolest Emmy-nominated costumes.
We also got duets from past celebrity cosplayers like Rumer “The Lion” Willis (who everyone ironically guessed was Demi Lovato back in Season 1) and Michelle “The Butterfly” Williams on the Aretha Franklin version of “Natural Woman,” and Joey “The Rabbit” Fatone with Bow “The Frog” Wow (their “ABC” was great fun, with Joey hitting all those Little Michael Jackson high notes). Nicole Scherzinger crooned Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be” with her two past crushes and the series’ most vocally capable athletes, Victor “Thingamajig” Oladipo and Barry “The Rhino” Zito. Why these alumni weren’t wearing their iconic costumes was unclear (and disappointing), but maybe those outfits had all been returned to the prop house by now.
Other than that missing amphibian zoot suit and bunny straitjacket, Fox pulled out all the stops for The Masked Singer’s possibly make-or-break 10th season kickoff, and it was understandable why. Speaking of disappointing, two seasons ago the show implemented a major format change — presumably to lure celebrities who, like Lovato, might not have wanted to sign for a full season — with each week featuring an instant double-elimination. One problem with this structure was several singers who would’ve at least made the semifinals under typical circumstances, like Debbie Gibson and Gloria Gaynor, went home after just one performance. Additionally, all of these one-and-done episodes totally robbed viewers of the chance to get invested — to play the guessing game at home and pore over each contestant’s clues over the course of several weeks — which has always been a huge part of The Masked Singer ’s interactive, innovative appeal. As a result, Seasons 8 and 9 weren’t especially suspenseful or nearly as fun as previous seasons, and viewership declined.
Now the show is thankfully reinstating much of its old format, with a few twists and tweaks. Season 10 will commence with three separate brackets, climaxing in Battle Royale semifinals for Groups A, B, and C. The special Battle Royale episodes will feature the return of a past contestant, and the current contestants will be tasked with performing one of that alumnus’s popular songs. Previous gimmicks like Wild Cards and the “Ding Dong Keep It On Bell” will be back, although the Bell, which can be used to save a singer from elimination, will now only be available during the Battle Royales. Themed episodes will also return, including Trolls Night, Harry Potter Night, Elton John Night, NFL Night, 2000s Night, One-Hit Wonders, “I Wanna Rock,” “Soundtrack of My Life,” and Disco Night. I hope Gloria “The Mermaid” gets invited back for the latter.
OK, got all that? The official Season 10 competition begins Sept. 27, when Nick Cannon promises we’ll “see more A-list stars taking it off!” I have a feeling some of the contestants will really be demi-celebrities, and opposed to actual Demi-level celebrities, but I’m still excited to find out the identities of the Anteater, Cow, Diver, Donut, Gazelle, Hawk, Hibiscus, Husky, Royal Hen, S’More, and the largest-scale costume the show has ever had, something called the Cuddle Monster. See you then.
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