Several late-night programs have begun experimenting with having hosts, and guests, filmed at home, a response to stay-at-home measures in place to stop coronavirus from spreading. Earlier this week Nancy Pelosi showed off her huge freezers and ice cream stash to James Corden. SNL’s cast performed this past weekend’s episode from home. And American Idol recently announced that it’s planning to forge ahead with its top 20 performance episodes, all filmed remotely, with judges and everything.
This seems impossible. Will the shows be live? How will every contestant have access to high-quality streaming or video recording equipment? Does anyone want to watch a bedroom singing competition that typically thrives on the alchemy of a live studio audience? It all seems unnecessary. But with no clear end to the coronavirus pandemic in sight, it might be the way things go. If so, there’s only one live performance show I’m interested in seeing filmed remotely under quarantine: Fox’s The Masked Singer. After all, it ushered in this dystopian era with Sarah Palin rapping “Baby Got Back” in a pink bear costume on the same night that Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19, and President Trump finally acknowledged the severity of the crisis.
For the uninitiated, The Masked Singer functions something like American Idol in format, but instead of amateur singers looking for their star-making moment, it features B-through-C list celebrities donning extravagant masks and costumes while singing the hits. The judges’ panel, composed of Robin Thicke, Ken Jeong, Jenny McCarthy, and Nicole Scherzinger, is left with guessing who just sang “Bossa Nova Baby” in a taco suit.
I was something of a Masked Singer judges truther for much of the first season: their banter was so wooden, so divorced from what was playing out on stage, that they couldn’t possibly be in the same room. This compounded with the absence of shots that included both the stage and judges in the same frame, with their panel elevated much higher above the audience than most similar singing competitions. The second season seemed more natural, but the judges still would routinely guess celebrities much too famous to be under the mask. (It feels like McCarthy goes for Oprah or Beyoncé at least once an episode.)
At home, there’s no telling where their guesses might lead, or what measures the marginal stars would take to disguise their identity over webcam. Like most reality singing competitions, The Masked Singer is predicated on ridiculous spectacle, with thematic backup singers and dancers to match JoJo Siwa disguised as a T-rex. This wouldn’t be possible without some highly creative measures — DIY costumes, or the bulky outfits mailed for the contestants to figure out how to assemble themselves.
Sarah Palin emerging from a pink bear costume ushered us into this bizarre new world, let’s go all the way down the rabbit hole. At least now, when every celebrity seems to actually be flying off the rails, things could get interesting.