Turns out America likes its music-competition contestants better when they’re covered in bizarre, bejeweled animal costumes.
“The Masked Singer,” the Fox show that has been described as “nightmare-inducing” (Entertainment Weekly), “dystopian” (The Ringer), and “three clicks away from an episode of ‘Black Mirror’” (Vulture), is off to a surprisingly strong ratings start. According to Nielsen live-plus-three numbers released Monday, the premiere of the competition show — which, as its title promises, is mostly people in masks singing — drew a 3.9 rating among adults 18-49. That marks an increase of nearly a full ratings point from the 3.0 the show’s Wednesday debut averaged in live-plus-same day numbers, giving it the biggest live-plus-three gain of any unscripted premiere ever.
“It was beyond expectations,” says executive producer Craig Plestis. “We were so thrilled to see, America latch onto it and be invested. It’s not just passively watching a show anymore. America doesn’t want to just say, ‘You’re the winner.’ They can be armchair detectives.”
The premise of “The Masked Singer” — a format that originated in South Korea and has iterated throughout Asia — is simple. Contestants belt pop standards in a singing competition that is structured much like any other on TV, save the fact that the vocalists are celebrities wearing costumes such as a gold-plated lion and a bedazzled peacock. In addition to the spectacle, the show leans heavily into building anticipation for the unmasking of each week’s eliminated celebrity singer, with judges encouraging speculation over the stars’ secret identities.
Unscripted programs tend to deliver somewhat smaller delayed-viewing increases than their scripted counterparts. The 30% live-plus-three gain for the debut of “The Masked Singer,” produced by Endemol Shine North America, is made all the more impressive by the fact that it launched with such a strong live-plus-same day number. Even before its delayed viewing jump, it was television’s highest rated unscripted debut since “The X-Factor” in 2011. In live-plus-three, the Fox show’s debut was the highest rated reality episode in the last two seasons, besting the most recent season premieres of “The Voice,” “American Idol,” and “America’s Got Talent.”
How well the show is able to sustain its strong ratings will be the true test of how durable the format is. But the delayed viewing lift is a positive sign that the show has been able to generate buzz beyond the night of its premiere.
“It’s always hard to predict future ratings are so been,” Plestis says. “I can only hope. The conversations are still going online right now, engaging the viewers. We’re getting great buzz still, and I hope that continues right up to the end of the show when we reveal who our number one masked singer is when they take off that mask. They are going to be wowed.”