The Masked Singer

Fox

Fox managed to do something truly incredible over the past few months. 

In January, the network debuted The Masked Singer, a deranged fever dream of a show featuring celebrities singing in elaborate costumes. The result of EP Craig Plestis' trip to a Thai restaurant with his family and a semi-secret shoot in June 2018, the show became a quick hit, dominating Twitter and becoming the highest-rated unscripted show launch since The X Factor in 2011. Wednesday's finale hit more than 11 million viewers, its highest all season. 

It's bigger than The Bachelor, and it takes over Twitter every single Wednesday night with trends like #Beemask and #Rabbitmask and #JoeyFatone. The show captured our love of a good mystery combined with our love of celebrity, and on top of that, it was fun. From the very beginning, it was a politics-free, worry-free party where nothing important mattered and everyone was just there to have a good time and watch a celebrity dance around in a poodle costume. 

Fox fairly quickly renewed the show for a second season, and while that decision was a no-brainer based on the success of the first, it also brings up a whole set of new questions about how the show works, and if it can keep working in the same way. 

For starters, the first time around, no one knew what this was, or what it would become. People might have known about the Thai and Korean versions, even if just from Ryan Reynolds' viral performance last year, but no one could have predicted what a massive hit it would be. 

"We were under the radar season one. No one knew at all what we were doing. No one came over to set, we didn't invite anyone. We just tried to make a good show," Executive producer Craig Plestis tells E! News as a way of explaining the success of the show's secret-keeping. 

Reality TV spoilers are practically their own business these days. Reality Steve, known for spoiling every moment of every season of The Bachelor or Bachelorette, has turned it into his brand. Press screeners for RuPaul's Drag Race cut off before the results of the final lip sync due to fear of spoilers, so it feels safe to say that the biggest new reality hit in years, and a show full of secrets to reveal, won't be able to fly under the radar any longer, and the already intense security is going to have to be ramped up big time. 

The Masked Singer

Fox

There's also the matter of the cast to wonder about.

Season one was filled with recognizable names, but they were mostly the same recognizable names—Antonio Brown, Tommy Chong, Ricki Lake, Margaret Cho, Rumer Willis, Joey Fatone, Gladys Knight, Donny Osmond—who had already appeared on Dancing with the Stars, making their participation in another celeb performance show not all that surprising. 

Will this be another show picking out of the same pool of people—everyone who's either been on DWTS or who has always been rumored to be on DWTS, like Tori Spelling? Could the success of the first season draw in some unexpected famous faces? 

We talked to EPs Craig Plestis and Izzie Pick Ibarra, as well as season one contestants Joey Fatone and T-Pain for their thoughts on how season two might work. 

The Masked Singer

Fox

The production schedule is the first thing producers have to figure out, before any casting can be done, and they've been examining the future of the show throughout all of season one to help determine what will be needed for the production in season two. 

"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," Fox President of Alternative programming Rob Wade said on the TV Critics Association panel, about halfway through the season. "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. Any great producer who has done an international hit format will know that you need to build season after season after season, improve, improve, improve. That's how you get longevity." 

And as for when that season two will air, that's what the network is likely now working on after seeing the success of the finale. 

"We are looking at all elements of the show, scheduling being one of them, and deciding how and when it comes back is also really crucial," Wade continued. "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." 

The Masked Singer

Fox

Plestis says they've already had calls from people wanting to participate in season two, which is very different from the situation in season one. There were also some celebs who weren't interested in season one, but said to call them back if it worked and got a season two. 

"It's nice not to have to go, please, please be on my show," Plestis says. "People are going, I want to be on it, and I promise I won't tell anyone." 

They're not specifically looking to shows like Dancing with the Stars for names, but they are looking for certain kinds of celebrities. 

"We really try to look for people who [are] right for the brand, right for the show," Plestis says. "It's not about what they've done before. It's just about can they sing, do they want to do it, are they passionate about it? And also, we're shooting it these weeks, are you free these weeks?" 

It's also about whether or not they "get" the concept, which is easier now, but was the main challenge in the first season. 

"If you're not behind the bizarreness, it wasn't going to work," he explained.

So basically, these have to be celebs with a sense of humor about themselves, who also have a month to be able to commit to production. 

 

The Masked Singer, Joey Fatone

Fox

Everyone behind the show seems confident that the measures taken during season one will hold in season two. 

"I think we had a lot of production processes in place for the kind of secrecy that still can remain in place," Ibarra said during the TCA panel. "I think so few people knew who any of the singers were on our production. It was very, very, very few people." 

"There's going to be a lot more security though, for the second season," Plestis added, before joking, "We have contacted the Pentagon already." 

Later to E! News, Plestis expanded on that. 

"If you're a security guard, come over to The Masked Singer. You're gonna make a lot of money," he joked when we asked if there was concern about people knowing to look for the production. "It's going to be a lot more labor intensive for us that you never had on any other show, reality or scripted. So it's going to be a lot of extra work that we have to do as producers outside of just making a good show." 

The Masked Singer

Fox

A major, major worry was not about who knew before the reveal, but the many people who then knew after each reveal, and had to keep it a secret for another seven or eight months. 

"We spent a lot of time with lawyers making NDAs...but that still doesn't stop people," he said. "Anybody who walked in with a phone, we took it away. We saw someone in the audience even texting their loved ones, we said, if you text, you can leave, or give us the phone. For me as a producer, you can say, hey, I know the Raven, the Raven is Ricki Lake, and that exists, sure. But there's a difference when you see Ricki Lake in the costume without the head, so we tried really hard to make sure that no one had a picture of that." 

Even with the security risk, having a live audience there was an important part of the climax of each episode, and will continue to be.

"They spent so much time in character, our celebrities, that when they took off the mask, we wanted the audience to be there for that, because there's an energy that you don't get if it was an empty studio." 

The Masked Singer

Fox

There will be a few changes to how the clues are laid out, but the producers mostly weren't bothered by how easy people thought the clues were, but the very first episode of the show featured the heights of the contestants, and that was definitely a mistake. 

"There's certain things that you know we won't do again," Plestis said, specifically referencing the heights and the fact that some of the clues seemed pretty obvious. "It's gonna get harder, but I don't want it to be so hard that people go, I give up. There's a psychological moment that this show really encompasses when you feel justified that you figured something out, and then you see that result happen, you get an endorphin level, that's a release. That's what our show provides, when you get that moment of "I knew who it was!" and you feel good about yourself." 

Basically, the show wants it to be a mystery, but they also want you to be able to guess correctly. 

"If we had a show where every time, the mask came off and you didn't figure it out, we wouldn't have a hit," Plestis said. 

The Masked Singer, Bee, Monster, Peacock

Michael Becker / FOX

The costumes and characters will change for season two, Ibirra confirmed, but there's no word yet on what the season two costumes may look like.

The Masked Singer

Fox

Speaking of costumes, for any celebs looking to participate in season two, T-Pain's got some important advice: "Bring pee bottles. Bring your own pee bottles because they don't have them." 

T-Pain, of course, won the whole thing as the Monster, and you could kind of tell when he took off the top part of the costume that using the restroom might have been tough for him when he was all suited up, so good to know! But T-Pain also had some thoughts on what might need to change for season two. 

"They definitely have to change the way they do the clues, they got to change the voices," he told us. "At first it wasn't us doing the voices, but they wanted each celebrity to have their own personality, but when all you do is pitch up the voice, all somebody has to do is rip the video and pitch it back down and then it's our voices. You can hear it plain as day. I would say go back to the original thing of having just random people do their voiceovers, dress them up and stuff like that, but it was pretty easy to figure out…I guess that gives the viewers a sense of accomplishment, like ‘I know who that is! I know who exactly who that is,' and when they're right I guess that gives them something, but, yeah, that was too easy.

The Masked Singer, Joey Fatone

Fox

Fatone, on the other hand, thinks the show should stick to what worked the first time for now. 

"I hope and I pray that they keep it within the same frame, because sometimes, you have a hit show on your hands for some odd reason. When you have a hit show, there's a reason why it's a hit show. People like what you do. Keep it. Don't change it. Don't add the twist. Don't fricking start doing all these different things...People like the original and what they did. It's simple, it's singing, it's celebrities in a costume, here are the clues, let's go. Don't try to change it. Yeah, you can add a twist, but don't do it in the second season. People are still just learning it, so why keep evolving and changing? Basically, if it ain't broke, don't fix it right now." 

The Masked Singer, Joey Fatone

Fox

Fatone also had some words of wisdom for the stars thinking of putting on a mask for season two: 

"Embrace it. Don't go over the top serious about the whole thing," he said. "I would say if you can sing your ass off, save your ballad for later. if you can sing, sing up tempo songs, because I think up tempo songs give a lot more life to the show, a lot more excitement to it. Unless you're the monster and you can sing "Stay With Me" and crush it like he did, do do that. But other than that, do a lot of up tempo ones." 

The Masked Singer

Fox

As avid (obsessive) viewers, we've got some thoughts on a few tweaks that could really make this show sing in an even bigger way in season two: 

  • Make it live—at least some portions, like maybe the reveals themselves, because so much of the success was the secrecy and the fact that the entire country seemed to be tuning in together already. Film the whole competition ahead of time, minus the actual unmaskings, then hold live viewing parties each week (a la Survivor finales) where an audience watches the pre-taped episode, then sees the unmasking live. That helps prevent spoilers and adds a brand new energy to the show. 
  • Have a guest panelist for every episode. Guests like Joel McHale and Kenan Thompson were great additions, so having a new guest each episode would add some helpful extra perspectives and a little extra flavor each week. 
  • More costumes like the Rabbit or the Alien, fewer costumes like the Monster and the Raven. As cute as the Monster was, he could barely move. The Rabbit gave Joey Fatone the ability to really get into character in a way the Monster did not for T-Pain, and it just added another element to the guessing. 

The Masked Singer aired on Fox.

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