Fox’s “The Masked Singer” is a talent competition with a difference. The series, which drew 9.2 million viewers in its Jan. 2 debut, is not looking to find America’s next big star. Instead, it’s about hiding them as they perform covers of chart-toppers in masquerade.
Twelve celebs compete, with one singer eliminated each week as identities are revealed. Fog machines and backup dancers add to the ambience of this adaptation of a Korean format.
Fooling the audience, as well as the other contestants, requires some intriguing head-to-toe disguises — courtesy of the woman behind the masks of “The Masked Singer,” costume designer Marina Toybina.
The four-time Emmy winner knows a thing or two about adding razzle-dazzle to performers’ wardrobes, thanks to her work on projects like Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and Katy Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl halftime show. She says she was most excited to bring a “cinematic approach” to reality TV, a genre that traditionally has schedules and budgets too strict to allow for anything overly complex or avant-garde.
Toybina started “Singer” with about 20 illustrations, creating characters like a hippo with LL Cool J-style chains, inspired by her love of hip-hop music; a demon-eyed white rabbit in a straitjacket based on the films “Edward Scissorhands” and “Donnie Darko”; and a golden lion that pays tribute to fashion designers like Alexander McQueen and Thierry Mugler as well as the “Chronicles of Narnia” books.
Toybina says it seemed kismet the way the 12 inaugural singers appeared drawn to particular looks; the person dressed as a glittery blue-and-green peacock — a design that makes her think of a Las Vegas entertainer — performed a song from the Hugh Jackman movie “The Greatest Showman.”
There were also technical factors to consider, such as whether the performers would be able to dance — or even keep from falling off the stage. Adjustments had to be made to ensure everyone could hear, see and, most important, breathe in the made-to-order masks.
Toybina says there was “definitely trial-and-error trying to figure out the best way to hide our talent and make them become these characters without any sign of skin.” Other factors included whether the performer had the type of energetic stage presence that would be hindered by a more constricting design or if that person was statuesque and could pull off a more extravagant look.
The nature of the show also required what Toybina describes as “very, very private” fittings at a “hidden-away” location. She also teases that these looks can be deceiving.
“There were a few gender mixes within the costumes,” Toybina warns when asked about, say, a curvaceous alien or a corseted unicorn. “I had such creative freedom from my network and the producers that we were able to play around … and the cast was so open-minded as to who would go into a female costume or who would go into a male and how we’d adjust the build based on that.”
The designer is tight-lipped about the original sketches that didn’t make it on-screen, saving them for a potential second season that she says would delve more into fantasy. Might we also suggest a red herring?