For The Masked Singer, it's what's behind the mask that matters — not the singing that comes from it. That's what this second season has proven, at least.
Fox's reality sensation hits its second season finale this Wednesday, with three celebrities-in-costume left in the competition. There's the Flamingo, the Rottweiller, and the Fox. For the purposes of this article, I'll be assuming all of them are who Vulture's is guessing they are because, well, Vulture's been right all season, and as I've written previously, the celebrities' identities aren't hard to figure out when you're not listening to the judges' bad guesses. Still, spoilers ahead if you really, really don't want to know who the singers likely are.
So our final three are The Real co-host Adrienne Bailon, American Idol Season 5 favorite and pop rock star Chris Daughtry, and TV host and personality Wayne Brady. All are more than competent singers, albeit not the best of the crop. If you've watched any of the season, you know that to get to the final three, we had to lose Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child, Raven-Symoñe, and literal living legend Patti LaBelle. And I can promise you that, at least regarding LaBelle, none of the finalists ever managed to out-sing her. Raven and Williams were also consistently strong, even if they underperformed in their elimination weeks — but only against their own standard, not relative to the other contestants.
Meanwhile, NBA star Victor Oladipo, who was consistently just OK as the Thingamajig, made it very far in the competition. Watching him survive against Williams, when she was often thrilling in her performances, was particularly brutal. So why did he keep making it through while better singers faltered? And why is it that Daughtry as the Rottweiller is the most likely to win the whole season?
To understand The Masked Singer's aims and goals, let's flash back to Season 1. Despite an honest-to-God legendary singer in the final three, Gladys Knight as the Bee, T-Pain as the Monster won out. T-Pain's performances were good, but they didn't compare to the Empress of Soul. But, where T-Pain did beat Knight was in the story. Other than his viral NPR Tiny Desk concert, the idea of T-Pain, master of autotune, as an accomplished vocalist was laughable. The Masked Singer pulled off a real trick by making someone unexpected the winner of the season: it was a shock to the show's core audience that he could sing so well.
My guess is that Oladipo was supposed to provide the same kind of story this season — he's an NBA player, not a singer! — but last week's double-unmasking made it difficult to justify keeping him around over the better performers. Brady was likely not supposed to make it past last week, fulfilling the same performer-turned-personality slot in the top five as Joey Fatone last season. I would be shocked if Brady won this season. He's a known performer and a song-and-dance show staple who would surprise basically no one with his win.
Daughtry, on the other hand, would be a legitimate shock in some ways. He may have started on American Idol, but he left that behind for the rock world a while back, and had some massive hits ("It's Not Over" and "Home" spring to mind). For him to come back to Fox for another singing show would feel like a homecoming. For him to win, when he was widely considered robbed on Idol (he finished fourth), would be a redemption.
Whither Bailon? My guess is that her storyline with fellow former Cheetah Girl Raven was supposed to come to a head, maybe even in the top 5 double-unmasking episode, but Raven's arm injury required her quick departure and ended that. To have a final three without a woman would look sketchy, but LaBelle was probably already set to be the shock boot of the season (I can't imagine the producers wanted a repeat of a Black singing superstar being beaten out at the last second again), and Williams was a sacrificial lamb in her match-up against Oladipo. The only other viable female finalist was sixth-placer Ana Gasteyer as the Tree, but I do personally think Bailon has out-performed her this season. Still, I would not put money on a Bailon win.
No, I'm pretty certain this is Daughtry's to lose, barring a terrible final performance. The fact that I'm parsing out storylines based on identities versus singing is The Masked Singer's big issue. Right now, the show couldn't care less about thge singing, with more emphasis on reveals than on who is actually performing well. Calling the show a "singing competition" is a misnomer, it's a celebrity reveal show with musical performances.
It feels silly to suggest "fixes" to The Masked Singer, because the show is a massive success as is. Fox knows it's going to burn bright and fast, which is why the third season is coming so soon into the new year (and functioning as Fox's post-Super Bowl program this go-around). But if I could make one suggestion, it would be to make the voting transparent. Right now, we're led to believe the show's voting happens instantly in the audience and among the judges. No numbers are reported, and thus it feels easy to believe that there's some… fudging from the production side. Even showing us percentages would go a long way toward making the show feel and act more honest.
I don't expect this change will happen, but I'll hold out hope! Until then, I'll see you tonight for Daughtry's crowning.
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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.