Welcome to Britain 2020, where The Masked Singer has become an immediate phenomenon. Love it or hate it, everyone is talking about the show that epitomises the crazy and chaotic age we live in. The premise is silly and simple: mystery celebrities dress up in elaborate costumes – including a tree, a unicorn, a monster and a really quite foxy fox – sing a song and a panel of judges, along with the rest of us, tries to guess who they are, with one celebrity being ritually unmasked each week. It’s completely bonkers but defying all logic, The Masked Singer became ITV’s biggest new programme in a decade. The show started in South Korea in 2015 (actor Ryan Reynolds was one of the contestants) and has been spreading to other countries since. Millions tuned in to The Masked Singer’s launch weekend at the start of the month, and couldn’t stop talking about it to friends and colleagues afterwards, as they came to terms with the revelation that Butterfly was actually Bianca from EastEnders and former Home Secretary Alan Johnson had dressed up as Sphinx to sing the Bangles’ Walk Like An Egyptian. In the eye of the storm is presenter Joel Dommett. The ex-Skins actor and I’m A Celebrity… star explains why The Masked Singer is about to become a national obsession.
We all need something upbeat. There are so many depressing things happening in the news; politically, environmentally, financially. We don’t want to see people being horrible to each other on television any more. We want to see celebrities in silly costumes having a really fun time then trying to guess with their friends who they are. That’s what people want.
The Masked Singer is so odd and so bizarre, it’s not going to immediately be everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s what’s endearing about it. It’s not cynical in any way, it’s just pure unadulterated silly fun, very tongue-in-cheek, almost a parody of your standard judging panel show.
What’s beautiful about it is that it’s a tried and tested format. It was an absolute no-brainer for me because it’s been a massive hit in Korea, where it began. It’s been a hit in Australia, Germany – huge hit in America. I’ve got a few friends who watched it in America and it connected everyone because you accidentally turn it on and then can’t turn it off. You switch it on and see this massive Monster. By that point it’s got the intrigue factor then five minutes later you’re sucked in and have to find out who one of them is. That’s the hook of the show. If you manage to turn it over then you’re an absolute robot.
The Masked Singer is so odd and so bizarre, it’s not going to immediately be everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s what’s endearing about it
It’s about that shout-at-the-TV conversation. People are opening WhatsApp groups texting their friends, “This is who I think it is. Did you see that clue?” It gets people talking and communicating. Over the first weekend I had people messaging me on Twitter saying, “This is terrible television, what is this rubbish?” And then 40 minutes Iater they were like, “I’m addicted, why can’t I can’t stop watching it?!” And that’s going to be the entire country by the end of the series. You have to wait eight weeks until you find out who at least three of these characters are, so imagine the fever of the country by then.
And it’s so arresting to the eye. It doesn’t look like anything anyone’s ever seen on primetime television before. The costumes are made by professional prop makers who work on huge feature films. The attention to detail is insane, so intricate. I dread to think how much they cost. The Unicorn costume, for example, they could have easily made it out of faux leather but up close you can see it’s all real leather made specifically for that person’s body. That level of attention again leans into the ridiculous.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
The mystery is really important too. It’s not a singing show, it’s a guessing game that happens to be wrapped up in a singing show. Like Guess Who? on acid. The level of secrecy involved is rare. Only about six producers know who the singers actually are. I don’t even know and I’m stood next to them. My family came to a few of the shows. They had to sign non-disclosure agreements. As soon as it was revealed to me I just tried my best to entirely forget. I like almost Men in Blacked myself, completely wiped my memory. It’s easier that way.
The Masked Singer gives big stars – there are some really huge people yet to be revealed – a chance to show a talent without being judged on face value, literally. Harry and Meghan could well be in one of the costumes. And the reason that they’re stepping down is because they did unexpectedly well on the show. This would be absolutely perfect for them. I mean I’m not saying that they’re not in the costumes. I mean with Monster, both of them could be inside that costume. You’ll have to tune in to find out for sure.
If these celebrities sang as themselves, they would be judged before you heard them sing but they’re judged on just their voice. I mean, obviously they’re in a ridiculous costume too.
Strangely people slowly begin to love the characters. By the end you really love these characters like Monster and Unicorn. They stay in character and you almost forget that there’s someone inside. Imagine it from my perspective, presenting a primetime show, stood there in a suit, looking at a Unicorn thinking, “What the hell is going on?”
The Masked Singer is on ITV on Saturdays at 7pm. Joel Dommett – Unapologetic (If That’s OK?) tours the country from February