Skunks and Bulls and Octopuses, oh my! Yes, America’s most bonkers TV guessing game, The Masked Singer, returned Wednesday for its sixth season, with a new motley zoo of mystery celebrity cosplayers that, according to host Nick Cannon, share 85 Grammy nominations, 32 marriages, 20 divorces, and “multiple Oscar nominations” between them.
Nick also hyped up an “earth-shattering new twist,” the Take It Off Buzzer. What that entails is, if one of the judges (most likely two-time Golden Ear Trophy winner Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg, and least likely Ken “I Know Exactly Who This Is” Jeong) is 100 percent sure that they know a contestant’s identity, they can whack that wacky buzzer at any time and make their instant guess. And if that judge is correct, then the contestant must unmask and leave the competition — immediately! (I advise Ken to use the Take It Off Buzzer very sparingly in the future.)
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None of the judges, not even Jenny, were sure enough to employ this gimmick when the five contestants from Season 6’s Group A bracket performed Wednesday. But Ken probably should have used it, because — and this just might be the biggest Masked Shocker ever! — his first-impression guess regarding Season 6’s first eliminee, the Octopus, was actually correct. Yes, this time, Ken really did know exactly who this was.
The eight-legged groove machine who wiggled and wriggled his way through Little Richard's “Tutti Frutti” did indeed turn out to be eight-time All-Star and eight-time All-NBA Team honoree Dwight Howard, as Ken had predicted, and not Dennis Rodman, Chris Webber, Anthony Davis, or Shaquille O’Neal, as his fellow judges had guessed. The Los Angeles Laker later explained that he’d signed up for The Masked Singer because it’s his mom’s favorite show, and while the dunk king’s time in the competition was brief and not exactly a slam-dunk, he still played like an all-star and did his mother proud.
Speaking of mothers, Wednesday’s premiere featured a “groundbreaking double-elimination,” and the other contestant to get the boot was a leafy lady named Mother Nature. It really is not easy being green, apparently. (“This is so anti-environment!” judge Robin Thicke yelled.) But Wednesday’s episode ended with an unprecedented cliffhanger, so we won’t find out Mother Nature’s identity until she is unmasked on Thursday’s special part-two episode. So, let’s assess her performance, along with the performances by the three Group A contestants who definitely advanced, and let the Season 6 guessing game begin in earnest.
The Skunk, “Diamonds”
This black-and-white-and-rad-all-over diva sashayed onto the show with a supermodel strut (“Put some stank on it!” Nick shouted) and belted Sam Smith’s ballad like it was a Bond theme. She had the husky, classic voice of an old-school legend, which had the judges standing up and bowing down — and judge Nicole Scherzinger proclaiming, “That’s some royalty up there!” Clearly the Skunk is a professional singer whose résumé probably comprises a few of those above-mentioned Grammy noms.
The clues: She took a career break to focus on family but is now “ready to get back out there,” explaining that she “felt like it was time to take a big leap and do something I haven’t done in a long time.” She also said “relates to the duality of the Skunk” and her reputation for being “quick to get into a fight” is undeserved. Visual clues included a train, a ticket to L.A. from Seoul (perhaps a reference to the Orient Express, or maybe just to “soul” music), a pink designer handbag, and a vase with the initial D (for “Diva”?).
Judges’ guesses: Gloria Gaynor, Faith Evans, Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, Anita Baker, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Sade, and Toni Braxton. Most of those were Ken’s random, rambling guesses — to which Nick quipped, “He just named every Black woman who can sing!”
My guess: I’m going with Faith Evans, who takes five or so years off between albums, hasn’t released a full studio LP since 2014, and is preparing to release a comeback single this year. She also has a bad rep due to her peripheral involvement the 1990s’ East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feud. And the Skunk sounds a lot like Faith, according to thousands of people on Twitter and to my own ears.
The Puffer Fish, “Say So”
It looks like this is going to be one divalicious season! This petite, curvy contestant realty was serving fish, with the prettiest, girliest costume of the night. Her slurry, purry voice oozed sass and sex appeal, and her rap interlude was surprisingly hot. Nicole was “transfixed” and called the Puffer Fish a “natural performer.”
The clues: This self-described “queen of the sea” always had a “weird” and “different” vocal style and didn’t fit in, but she learned how to stand up for herself. Visual clues included a boomerang (indicating the Puffer might be Australian), a disco ball, and an electric guitar emblazoned with the Spanish word “guitarra.”
Judges’ guesses: Maya Rudolph, Issa Rae (that “stand up” mention had the panel thinking this might be a comedienne), Jessica Alba, or Paula Abdul.
My guess: OK, I actually think this contestant is Toni Braxton. And so does everyone on Twitter, apparently. The quirky voice sure sounded like hers, plus Toni once released a song called “Spanish Guitar” and was on the Boomerang soundtrack. If I were a judge, I would have totally used the Take It Off Buzzer on the Puffer Fish!
The Bull, “Drops of Jupiter”
This contestant came charging out of the gate, all machismo and swagger and alpha-male energy. I was completely expecting him to be an athlete, maybe even a boxer. But then he began belting — starting off in the studio audience, working his way back to the stage, and never getting winded or missing a step or a note — and everyone was floored. “That looked like a professional to me,” said Nick. “That was your first performance, and you were taking no prisoners,” marveled Nicole. Robin declared this one of the greatest performances in Masked Singer history and said the Bull was already the frontrunner for the Season 6 finals. With all the raining confetti and waving glowing sticks in the house, this sure did feel like finale night.
The clues: He “grew up in a small town surrounded by cows,” but fulfilled his big dreams to escape and travel the world. One of his dreams was to be the “greatest of all time” (I do not understand, then, why he wasn’t in a GOAT costume!), and when everyone in the business turned him down, he “became his own boss.” Eventually, Hollywood and Forbes took notice. Visual clues included Cooperstown (which made the judges think he might be a baseball player), an astronaut, and a lion.
Judges’ guesses: Brian Littrell, Sisqo, or Dwyane Johnson.
My guess: I’m going with small-town Texan, American Idol reject, and self-made YouTube star Todrick Hall, who has landed Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list. It sounds like Todrick, and the Bull definitely had his hunger and drive.
Mother Nature, “I’m Coming Out”
We already know that the wind has been knocked out of Mother Nature’s sails, but she did a decent job with Diana Ross’s 1980 Pride anthem Wednesday. While she didn’t seem like a singer by trade, she stayed basically in tune and executed some groovy moves. This mutha had a lot of spunk and funk and seemed like a born performer — possibly an actual comedian this time.
The clues: “I’ve done it all. As seasons changed, so did I,” she said. In fact, the only thing Mother Nature hasn’t done is become an actual mother. But she is protective of her loved ones, and her chosen family includes The Masked Singer Season 2 winner Wayne “The Fox” Brady.
Judges’ guesses: Aisha Tyler, Tiffany Haddish, Chelsea Handler, or Diana Ross’s own daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross.
My guess: I’m going with child-free badass and Brady associate Chelsea Handler, whose stormy, vodka-swilling personality matched Mother Nature’s. But we will have to wait until Thursday to find out if I am right, when Season 6’s part-two premiere airs.
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