The first thing to know about The Masked Singer is that it is incredibly, absurdly dumb. The second thing to know is that’s a feature, not a bug.
Fox’s newest reality giant, now in its second season and adapted from a successful international format, tasks a crew of celebrities with putting on elaborate costumes and singing their hearts out on stage. The first season saw stars like Rumer Willis, Gladys Knight, Donny Osmond, and Ricki Lake battle it out, and ended on a surprisingly effective narrative note when T-Pain, a rapper the world constantly forgets and remembers can truly sing well, took home the win. It was charming, funny, and wonderfully harmless.
This season, which enters its final week of the preliminary rounds tonight, has upped the ante with 16 celebrities in contention. Three have alredy been eliminated and unmasked: boxer Laila Ali, gamer Ninja, and skater Johnny Weir. With 13 more to go (one will be unmasked tonight: either the Fox, the Flower, the Eagle or the Penguin), it’s still early enough for any viewers who might want to dive in.
But if you do, know that you shouldn’t take the judges seriously.
Look, there’s plenty of entertainment to be found in The Masked Singer, from the actual performances — some of which can be quite good! — to the general Big Top Circus vibe of the series (with host Nick Cannon as ringleader), but the judges are not part of the entertainment. The judges actively oppose the entertainment. They are moronic, often willfully so, and every single segment involving them is a reason to push the fast-forward button. Unless you’re watching live, in which case, I’m so sorry.
The primary problem with these four clowns — Robin Thicke, Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong, and Nicole Scherzinger — is that they don’t do any judging. There’s the occasional “you were great!" or “you’re not a natural singer," but no substantive feedback. One gets the impression that, in the age of The Voice, audiences are just conditioned to see four celebrities in front of singing competition performers, and so that's why they're there.
Really, Scherzinger is the only one on the panel qualified to critique singing anyway. She was excellent as a judge on the UK X Factor and is partially credited with bringing the boys of One Direction together. But she’s a mess here, sacrificing any sort of real judging credentials to be a cheerleader alongside her co-judges. In fact, the show doesn’t really market them as judges at all, instead preferring to frame them as investigators of sorts, deducing the identities of the contestants.
That could be fun, right? Maybe add a scoring system to see who can correctly flag the most celebrities by the end of the season, give the winning judge a lump of cash for their favorite charity. Except there’s none of that, and instead the judges throw out guesses with abandon. While Jeong will occasionally try to use some logic to figure out a masked singer's identity, the prevailing mood on the panel is chaos. McCarthy is particularly off the rails, just last week guessing that the Leopard was Jamie Foxx and that the Black Widow was Oprah. If you’ve even merely heard of the premise of this show, you would realize that Foxx and Oprah are WAY TOO FAMOUS to participate in a show like this.
So why the bad guesses? Well, as mentioned, there’s no incentive for the judges to get it right. Moreover, there’s actually incentive for them to get it wrong, and confuse the audience as much as possible. When the show is entirely based on unmasking celebrities week after week, it's to the participant’s benefit to keep ratings up by not making their identities obvious. And when the performers’ identities are as obvious as they are now, the show needs every bit of help it can get obfuscating the truth.
In summation: The Masked Singer's judges are not judges; they’re detectives. But they’re also not really detectives, because they want to keep the secrets of the show as long as possible. They’re the Masked Singer equivalent of crooked cops covering up the truth. They are fraudulent. Scammers, one and all. And this gloriously dumb show truly does not need them.
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.