The Masked Singer might have just saved talent shows forever

Has ITV's odd new series finally worked out how to save the talent show format?

The Masked Singer

If I’m being honest, I’m surprised I’m constantly talking about The Masked Singer. Having come seemingly out of nowhere last weekend, it’s taken the nation by storm.

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For those who haven’t seen it (where have you been?) the premise is simple: A celebrity completely disguises themselves in a bizarre and colourful costume, sings a song, is critiqued, and then a panel of judges try to guess who they are. If the in-studio audience don’t back them, they are voted out and dramatically unmasked in a ritualistic ceremony.

Last weekend, two characters had their identities exposed and in a random turn of events, they were (spoiler alert) EastEnders’ Patsy Palmer and former Shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson – a mixed bunch then.

With 10 characters left to unmask, viewers across the nation are doing their best Coleen Rooney and have been dissecting each clue with astonishing care and concern.

What’s more, The Masked Singer even performed well in the Saturday night ratings battle, getting 5.5 million viewers during its launch, beating The Greatest Dancer which had 3.2 million; it even outperformed ITV’s The Voice, which managed 4.6 million.

Perhaps these incredible figures were down to the fact it was a brand new show going up against season two of The Greatest Dancer, which admittedly struggled last year too. But there seems to be more to The Masked Singer than meets the eye.

A quick dive on Twitter and #TheMaskedSinger is full of conspiracy theories from people of all walks of life; families were brought together to solve the identity riddles and some battle lines were even drawn by people who solidly believe Chameleon is really Declan Donnelly and those who think he is definitely Alexander Armstrong.

Simply, the notion of a talent show with such an element of mystery is not only new, it’s refreshing.

For many years, stalwart shows like The X Factor have slowly been losing viewers despite initially being the most-watched programmes of the year. When the brand tried to do something different last December with The Band, even that only bagged 4.12 million viewers for its launch show – a far cry from its heyday.

X factor: The Band (ITV)

Viewers want something different and that’s exactly what The Masked Singer has given them, but what’s more, it’s a trend that is happening across the globe.

For those unaware, The Masked Singer launched in Korea originally, and bagged the likes of Ryan Reynolds (you read that right) for its first series. America quickly latched on to the idea and put out two whole seasons just last year, with the likes of T-Pain, Donny Osmond and Gladys Knight competing under a mask.

As the UK version seemingly heads in the same direction and it would be hard not to see a second season on the horizon, what can we learn from the format?

Well, it’s always better to take risks. Viewers get bored incredibly easy in the age of streaming and it seems Korean broadcasters might be on to something with their bold commissioning.

Other hugely popular Korean shows which seem to follow along the same lines as The Masked Singer include “Hidden Singer”, where a pop star and an impressionist go head-to-head and the audience must vote who is real. It’s already been a hit throughout Asia and Italy, so it really won’t take long before we’re screaming at our TVs about that one. Meanwhile, “Infinite Challenge”, which is often considered Korea’s first variety show, sees celebrities compete in stupid and hilarious challenges all for laughs. With major celebrities taking part in Asia, it surely will make its way over to the UK shortly, following the success of The Masked Singer.

Perhaps what we really can learn from the instant success of The Masked Singer and the rise of the Korean variety show across the globe is just how much we need our competition shows, particuarly the celebrity editions, to be fun and not take themselves too seriously.

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If a former cabinet member is willing to get up on stage dressed as a Pharaoh and perform Walk Like An Egyptian to millions of viewers then maybe we don’t actually need superstars singing their hearts out on The X Factor any more – we need The Masked Singer.

The Masked Singer continues next Saturday 11th January at 7pm on ITV