As we look back on entertainment throughout the 2010s, it’s safe to say we’ve had no shortage of celebrity singing contests. From the good (All Star Musicals), the bad (Your Face Sounds Familiar) and the downright disastrous (The X Factor: Celebrity), it seemed as if we well and truly exhausted both the genre and viewers’ patience with constant revamps of a frankly tired genre.
You’d think, then, that for 2020 ITV would embrace the ‘new year, new me and new TV’ attitude to scheduling, and leave celebrity singing contests as a hopefully-to-be-forgotten relic of the 2010s.
Instead, we’re starting the new decade with The Masked Singer – yet another brand-new celebrity singing contest threatening the Saturday night schedules. In a whole new twist to the genre that could be straight out of Black Mirror, our 12 celebrities are disguised behind both bright and bizarre costumes (meet ‘Duck’, everyone) and have to battle it out against one another in a sing-off, with the audience invited to not just assess the quality of performance but also deduce who is the celebrity behind each mask.
On paper, it’s a concept that shouldn’t really work. Surely the appeal of celebrity singing contests was to see the celebrities singing? The Masked Singer removes that all together by making the celebrity anonymous and dressing them up as a knock-off Sully from Monsters Inc.
I should hate it. I wanted to hate it. But here’s the thing – The Masked Singer is wall-to-wall bonkers… but it’s brilliant.
A show that insists you embrace the chaos from the very outset, host Joel Dommett wastes no time in telling the audience and the panel of judges that our very first battle is ‘Queen Bee’ versus ‘Duck’ – with said Duck sporting a high ponytail and conical bra a la 1990s Madonna.
The vocal abilities of our heavily disguised celebs would be nothing to write home about – but you’re not really meant to watch The Masked Singer for the singing. The real stars of the show are the costume designers, with the disguises offering a level of transformation Stars in Their Eyes could have only dreamed of. Matthew Kelly, eat your heart out.
Some of the celebs were impeded by the large, ornate and highly decorative costumes – the fact that ‘Octopus’ could even manage to slither out onto the stage, let alone sing, was applaudable on its own. It was almost an advantage to have a more cumbersome disguise, as it made the celebrities all the more endearing to viewers. I never thought I’d be cheering on a Duck in a bra, but as Duck bashfully waddled over flapping its wings, it dawned on me that I would probably die for it.
But what makes The Masked Singer so much fun is its guessing-game aspect. There’s been no expense spared keeping our celebrity’s identities under wraps, and execs are determined to make it as hard as possible for our panel to guess who may be who with confusing and indecipherable clues. It’s something that Ken Jeong plays on, jokingly believing one of our celebrities is Angela Lansbury, whereas Davina McCall’s quite serious suggestion that one celebrity is Nigel Havers is met with roars of laughter.
But each guess, no matter how ridiculous, is all in good fun, with our celebrities sending themselves up as they then pose for a video game-esque screen as Dommett runs through the suggestions. It almost outright begs you to quite literally play along at home,. You’ll find yourself chanting ‘OFF, OFF, OFF’ alongside the audience at the end of the programme as one celebrity is unmasked – a bit like you’re a guest at the weirdest hen do in the world.
Granted, The Masked Singer won’t be for everyone – it may be a bit too brash and bright for more po-faced viewers.
But as the Christmas debris clears and we’re left with the bleak and grey January, The Masked Singer is exactly the tonic needed to brighten up our Saturday nights.
The Masked Singer debuts Saturday 4th January on ITV.