The Masked Singer: Strict Rules Contestants Must Follow
What’s the connection between The Masked Singer and Disney? How do the participants interact without revealing their identities? And why are some celebs truly happy... to be eliminated? Let’s take a look behind the curtain of television’s most mysterious and spectacular singing competition - The Masked Singer.
While there’s been quite a lot of different shows that involve live vocals, bright costumes, and complex choreography, the Masked Singer is unique because, in addition to the amazing performances, the audience has to solve the mystery of the singers’ real identities.
And who wouldn’t like to be a Sherlock Holmes of the world of pop-culture? OK, by calling the show unique we might have exaggerated… just a little a bit. Did you know that the American series is actually a remake of the South-Korean show "King of Mask Singer"?
However, the original project is not as meticulous about their costumes: in addition to masks (obviously), the stars mostly just wear oversized clothes. But the South-Korean show hasn’t just featured local stars: who else made a surprise appearance to promote “Deadpool 2” in 2018 than Ryan Reynolds, sporting a very Wade Wilson-appropriate unicorn mask and cape. Just imagine how shocked the audience must have been after he took off his horned mask!
Meanwhile, the American version of the hit series was developed with the help of former team members of Dancing With The Stars, a bunch of folks who surely know how to make a show spectacular. So what strict rules do Masked Singer participants, staff and even the audience have to follow to keep up the mystery of the show from unraveling?
1. Onboarding rules
What is the very first thing each and every celeb does when they agree to take part in the competition? Obviously, they have to sign a very strict and comprehensive Non-Disclosure Agreement or NDA. Secrecy is crucial for the show, after all, so the performers are not allowed to share the news with anybody.
As the producers revealed 'It was written into their contracts that they couldn't tell anyone, even their families, what was going on. In the end, they were as worried about their secret getting out as we were.'
But we wonder how long they can actually keep that secret for... and what alibis they’ve had to come up with to throw off suspicion… However, considering their status, each celebrity is allowed to have just one person accompany them. So of course, this person must follow the show’s strict rules as well. Anyway, when the NDA is signed, contestants get their personal codenames as even the slightest hint of their identity may ruin everything.
You’d think that the easiest way to label the celebs would probably be by their costumes, but the show’s creators go above and beyond. They make sure that all the codenames are abstract and neutral, to avoid even the slightest suspicion.
For example, Patsy Palmer’s codename was “Square”. Alan Johnson was referred to as “Stamp” and Justin Hawkins went by the nickname “Light”. While on set, the masked singers themselves are not allowed to interact with anyone but an exclusive core team, who identify themselves through a special secret signal shared with the singer. Of course, we can’t tell you any more details about this as it’s TOP SECRET but we can say that the signal changes every season to prevent anyone cracking the code.
2. The costume struggles
So how do the contestants choose a costume? When a celeb joins the show, they have a selection of 20 designs drafted by Marina Toybina. Each of the 12 participants chooses the one they most identify with, but they can also add bespoke touches at their own discretion so that the outfits better reflect their personalities.
Wondering where the designer gets her inspiration for all the crazy looks she creates? Well, some of the designs have been influenced by movies. Take that Rabbit costume from the first season, for example, which was clearly inspired by “Edward Scissorhands” and “Donnie Darko”, while the Lion and the Unicorn were influenced by “The Chronicles of Narnia”.
Such is their dedication to secrecy that to keep the stars’ identities under wraps, the show team uses body doubles for all the costume fittings. Some outfits are easier to create and wear than others, while some are quite challenging for both the designer and the singer.
The Unicorn and the Raven demanded a lot of work to make the costume look perfect but when the designer’s suffering ends, it’s the performer’s turn. The Raven’s outfit included 9-feet wide wings... which proved to be REALLY heavy. And those multi-layered masks aren’t exactly breathable, so celebs often confess about being more and hot and sweaty than they’d prefer for a performance.
That’s why most of the costumes have hidden fans to keep the singer cool, but these aren’t always on as they make a lot of noise which obviously isn’t exactly compatible with singing and talking on mic.
Another challenge for the performers to deal with is poor visibility from inside of the outfit. As the show’s executive producer Izzie Patrick Ibarra shared:
'They really cannot see very much. And that's the most disarming thing for them is getting on stage.'
And poor Queen Bee reportedly suffered “crippling claustrophobia” in her costume. In fact, when contestants agree on a certain design, they’re clueless about the level of effort and struggle involved in transforming into their masked alter-egos, which is why some of them are more than happy to quit the series. And if you think that the celebs always have the costumes at their full disposal, you’re wrong!
Derek McLean, the show’s executive producer revealed that they borrowed a strict rule from who else but the Disney corporation in order to avoid stars in costumes going berserk and spoiling the brand.
'The stars were only allowed in their costumes for 20 minutes… That's how long Minnie and Mickey Mouse can be in their costumes before going doolally.'
3. The masking precautions
Obviously, it takes more than the on-set suits and code names to shield celebs’ identities backstage. The rules of the show demand that participants wear a helmet and visor, complete with oversized clothes that proclaim: ‘Do not talk to me’ whenever they arrive anywhere even slightly related to the show.
Some of the contestants even go a little bit overboard, wearing clothes that conceal their identity every time they leave the house! Patsy Palmer’s overprotective nature made even the show’s staff laugh.
‘She couldn’t believe it when we told her afterwards that she could have just put it on in the car. We were all laughing at the image of her in her helmet at the buffet. But that’s how seriously the celebs were taking it,’ shared executive producer Daniel Nettleton.
But the masked singers aren't the only ones who have to go undercover while participating in the show: their agents, friends and family members are required to wear masks too whenever they accompany the stars on set.
Which kind of makes sense, since they could all easily give the game away. So this kind of privacy is obviously a necessary measure: with all their social media activities, a celebs’ entourage could easily be recognized in real life and thus spoil the reveal.
Reportedly, the contestants also rehearse at different locations and arrive on set at different times throughout filming so as to make sure that fans can’t crack their schedule. Among the other alleged on-set restrictions is a ban on smartphone usage.
4. The performance and revelation routines
Although it might seem like the show is broadcast live, nothing is actually happening in real-time. In fact, all episodes are pre-recorded in front of a live studio audience. But all the performances and vocals are performed live at the time and are the result of profound preparation by all the separate teams working with each star.
And it isn’t just the performer and their teams that have to follow regulations. The audience attending the live performances also have a handful of strict rules to follow. No electronic devices are allowed in the studio and every person signs a special contract binding them to secrecy.
In order to help protect the contestants’ identities, the audience are not allowed to interact with each other or with the judges except on-stage. And this rule still applies even when a celeb takes off their mask.
But can the judges, directors and writers truly be completely in the dark about the people behind the masks? Well, the show creators reassure us that this really is how the project works. So whenever a judge makes a really bad guess about the masked singer, don’t laugh! They really are doing their best to solve the puzzle under pressure!
The show’s producers Derek McLean and Daniel Nettleton get a lot of inspiration from the panelists’ guesses:
'We obviously know who is under the masks but we still often think, 'Oh, that's a really good guess', which is hilarious." They also add that "some of the guesses have also made us think, 'They would be a great person to have on board [in the future]', so you never know, some of those guesses might become reality.'
Every panelist has their own approach to their work. Robin Thicke is said to take the show "extremely seriously". He tries to listen to the voice with his eyes closed and then read the performers’ body language. And if you think that someone’s elimination is followed by immediate identity reveal, you’re wrong again. It's essentially impossible to look half-decent under those stuffy and sweaty masks so the stars need a chance to refresh their makeup and hair before their onscreen reveal.
But guess what? Even when one of the stars leaves the show and reveals themself in front of the audience, judges and show staff, even their fellow contestants are not allowed to know the masked singer’s identity. In fact, the other participants are in the same boat as viewers at home as they only discover the secret of other singers’ secret identities when the episodes air!