Talk about prescient: “The Masked Singer” was all about covering up before masks were cool… or mandatory. “It’s the safest show if you’re a celebrity,” quips executive producer Craig Plestis. “We give you masks. It’s a little bit the tagline we’re using: Protect you protect your identity and your health.”
Now, as Season 3 of “The Masked Singer” ends its run with a two-night finale on Tuesday and Wednesday night, the world is in a very different place than it was when the season began back in February.
“I think the Masked Singer weathered the storm of this pandemic but also kind of kept America together a little bit,” Plestis tells Variety. “I really believe Masked Singer was this respite for an hour out of all the trauma that everyone is going through. This is the time we can bond with everyone that’s in the house right now. And forget about the troubles and just laugh and guess.”
“Masked Singer” also benefited by being shot and produced at the start of the year, giving producers the opportunity to air an in-studio showcase, with an actual studio audience, up to the very end. Plestis credits the serendipity with the show’s desire to keep things secret — which means taping the show quickly.
“Because it is such a top secret show, that we really try to get a little bit of advance on it and bank these,” he says. “Because the security portion of the show is so lengthy. So, we try to keep a little bit of separation of time just to make sure we get them done, that we’ve done them right, and get that security in place. So we can keep that guessing game alive for everyone.”
In editing, however, in recent weeks Plestis and the producers have been able to make timely references via voice over. Because the contestants are in masks, their voice-overs can be changed right up to air. Last week, for example, the Night Angel made a joke about finding toilet paper — a subject that wouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar in January.
“There’s some flexibility that we have in telling the stories of our contestants,” he says.
The final celebrity will be unmasked on Wednesday, but first, Tuesday night’s “Road to the Finals” special takes another look at the season, and will feature some new elements — including Warwick singing “What the World Needs Now” with the three finalists.
“This was all done after we wrapped up taping,” Plestis says of the performance, which is dedicated to COVID-19 essential workers and first responders. “So we went out and approached them and asked if they would do this song and do a little tribute video. They all responded right away. It’s a really powerful song. As well as fresh content on our Tuesday show, with something that no one has ever seen. It’s nice when we can give back a little bit.”
Also on Tuesday, Plestis teases never-before-seen footage, as well as final clues that “if you do pay attention, you can figure it out. We want to make sure that we give them every chance possible. And then on the finale, all the songs that are that our contestants do are phenomenal. It’s larger than life. It’s one of the best hours of television that’s going to come out this year. I was on a high after I filmed it, and throughout the whole editing process of it. It’s just a fantastic hour of television. And I think America will be very happy with how it unfolds.”
It’s been quite a run this winter and spring for “The Masked Singer,” which kicked off with a post-Super Bowl premiere that easily became its most-watched episode ever, averaging 23.7 million viewers an 8.1 rating with adults 18-49.
That episode also opened with one of the most high-profile celebrity unmaskings in the show’s early history: Hip-hop superstar Lil Wayne. “Trust me, I wanted Lil Wayne to last all the way through,” Plestis says. “That was a little heartbreaking, but sometimes, the roll of the dice, it is what it is when the audience votes… Some of the songs that he had planned were going to be phenomenal. And plus, he has such a great outfit. I love that robot. I just wanted to see it again.”
After Wayne, unmasked celebrities this season included Drew Carey, Chaka Khan, Tony Hawk, Dionne Warwick, Tom Bergeron, Sarah Palin, Bella Thorne, JoJo Siwa, Rob Gronkowski, Jordyn Woods, Bret Michaels, Hunter Hayes, Jackie Evancho and Barry Zito. That leaves just three left: Turtle, Frog and Night Angel.
Palin, in particular, was a bit of a polarizing choice. But Plestis says he wasn’t looking to get political: “She really wanted to show herself in a different light and have fun on a stage without anyone knowing who she is,” he says. “I think she did an incredible job with her song. She wrote a wonderful note afterwards to the crew and to all the producers saying, ‘I was a little scared coming to Hollywood and was expecting some backlash but I was met with open arms and everyone treated me with great respect.’ That’s really what the ‘Masked Singer’ is. People can come together here and just have some fun and play a great guessing game and not feel the weight of the world on them.
“Since she was willing to do that, and she was just very open minded, it was a no brainer in that sense,” he says. “But we’re always going to be very cautious on who goes on the stage.”
As for what’s next, “The Masked Singer” is on tap to air this fall, but Plestis says it’s too soon to discuss logistics of when it might film. “Right now, we’re at the early stages in pre-production,” he says. “There’s not much I can divulge at this stage. We’re designing costumes, I can tell you there’s some incredible groundbreaking ideas that we’re trying to do that you haven’t seen yet here in America, and there’s some designs that we have that no one has ever done before [around the world]. So we’re really excited about bringing those to life and beyond that there’s not much more I can give away at this early stage about formats and so forth.”
Meanwhile, Plestis says announced spinoff “Masked Dancer” is in a “holding pattern” as Fox and the producers focus on finding ways to get the fourth season of “Masked Singer” up and running.
Also on delay: “The Masked Singer” tour, which was scheduled to take place this summer, but has now been pushed to 2021.
“I think it was pretty much sold out,” Plestis says. “It will be back, in better times, so we’re excited when it does come back.”