7:30pm PT by Jean Bentley
'The Masked Singer' Boss on Surprising Winner and Leaning Into the Crazy for Season 2
[This story contains the identity of the winner of season one of Fox's The Masked Singer.]
When The Hollywood Reporter spoke with The Masked Singer's Craig Plestis before the Fox reality series premiered, the executive producer described the incredible lengths the production went to in order to keep the identities of the participating celebrities secret. Now that the celebrity singing competition series is a hit and America has spent the past eight weeks obsessing over the identities of the costumed stars in the competition, it will be much harder to keep the contestants' identities a secret in season two.
"There wasn't that much leaking," Plestis told THR this week ahead of Wednesday's season one finale in which rapper T-Pain was crowned the winner over Gladys Knight and Donny Osmond. "There wasn't that much out there until we got on the air and then people were guessing. And the guesses were all over the board. Until the mask comes off, you don't know 100 percent."
Now that the show's a hit, however, Pletsis knows there will be much more interest in who's competing in the second season. Contestants in season one were picked up from a separate location, covered from head to toe at all times — gloves and visors included — and weren't allowed to speak with anyone. Even their guests were covered with robes and masks to preserve secrecy.
"Security is going to be a lot more stringent in season two," he explained. "For season one, we were not under the radar for a lot of people, and we still had a lot of security. So we're really going to have to be on top of our game for season two."
Below, Plestis opens up about his reaction to the winner (and who he beat), the changes he's planning for season two and which stars he has his sights set on to compete.
What did you think worked about this first season?
When we went bizarre and went a little crazy, it worked, and we know that's the secret ingredient that we're going do for season two. So if you think this season was bizarre, just wait until you see season two. What worked is really going for it with the costumes — go crazy with it, don't play it safe. Have fun making it and letting everyone be involved with the party. Part of what's going on right now is there are many shows out there that are great — a lot of people are just a little too serious about some of them. Our show is not a serious show at all. It's a fun party that you can come to each week and invite into your house, and that's what we need in America — just to disengage a little bit. There's so much crazy stuff going on, and this is a show you don't have to worry about it. You can just worry about who's underneath the Peacock mask, and who's underneath the Monster mask.
What didn't go the way you thought it would?
There's always hindsight to try to figure out how you can improve on stuff, and there's always things you can improve on — some songs choices that we'll try to direct with our talent to get the best out of them. But the one thing I want to try to work on in season two is that combination of giving enough clues out to America so they can be involved in it, but not giving so much that we give everything away. So it will be a balance for every season after. People get invested in this; they want to figure it out; and we want them to figure it out as well.
So the lesson is maybe hold back on the clues a little bit so people can't Google everything?
Yes; give a little bit, but not too much. We've said this from day one: If you pay attention, you watch really closely, or watch it again, you can figure it out. We really want to make sure that we have all the tools there. If you look at that license plate on Pineapple's car and you look at the birth date on it, and you figure it out that it is the Pineapple's birthday. You can add all these clues up and go, “OK, without a doubt, I know who's underneath that mask.” It's like a well-crafted crime novel. And that's a little bit what we have to do with the show. It's not just thinking about producing one episode. We really have to look at the arc of the characters for all the episodes and imagine that they go all the way through each one, and then how to piece those and give away those pieces of information along every episode. So there's a lot of crafting that we have to do with our show that you normally don't do for storytelling, and we just need to be on our game again for season two.
What surprised you the most about season one?
The engagement level of everyone who watched it. We knew from looking at the Korean and Thai formats that people went online and talked about it. But we really didn't know it was going to capture the zeitgeist so much in the sense of people going online and sharing their secrets and telling who they think it is and debating it and getting passionate — beyond passionate — about who they think it is. Each week when I see the trending of No. 1 worldwide and No. 1 USA and the volume of tweets, it just astonishes me. It's more than any other show I've ever worked on, because of that guessing game element. I'm blown away each week when I see that.
Were you surprised by who won?
Yes. Everybody who participated was fantastic. It's out of our hands. It's within the audience and our panel, but I've always had a soft spot for our winner [T-Pain]. I wonder if he had probably one of the most difficult costumes to wear. Imagine if you had to almost be inside of a cylinder, with hardly any air coming in. For that alone, maybe he should have just won because it was not the easiest costume to wear.
We live in a world where T-Pain beat Gladys Knight in a singing competition. That is an insane sentence.
I know, it's crazy. We were so lucky. Really the quality of everybody on the show, but especially our final batch, is really exceptional. They're all such professionals and perfectionists. The magic that happens in our show, like all reality shows, halfway through ... the competition everyone just didn't want to have fun, they wanted to win it. And they really worked hard and practiced hard, and debated what songs they should do, what they should do with the backup dancers and choreography and everything.
Monster (T-Pain) and Lion (Rumer Willis) were the two contestants who really surprised people and they're the ones who the panel had the most difficult time with, too. Without Google, it seems those would have been the hardest to guess. For season two, what caliber of celebrity do you want to try and get now? Do you want to get some A-listers? Is that the ultimate goal?
What we're looking at for season two and for future casting is just the idea of for America to be surprised when that mask comes off. We really want to make that a great, almost shocking moment and an unpredictable moment. It's not so much about is it Brad Pitt underneath the mask or the level of A-list celebrity versus another level. It's more about, "Oh, my gosh! I didn't know they could sing," or, if they were a professional singer, "I didn't know they could sing that type of music." I really want to have the idea of the unexpected to happen when that mask comes off. If we can surprise people, we've done our jobs as producers.
Do you think you can do that with an A-lister?
I think we can do that. We're lucky because with the success of our show, we've been getting lots of responses from all different kinds of celebrities who want to be involved in it. So as much as it was difficult first season, it's slightly easier now for the second season. We'll pick that right combination of different celebrities to go underneath the mask. We're open to every level. As long as they're passionate, they want to do it. They're going to have to wear these heavy outfits and for X-number of weeks and it give it their all.
Who is the biggest star you would love to get for season two? Who's the biggest name on your wish list?
That's a tricky question. I can't tell you because that name [is one of] the people that we're going after right now. There are big and unexpected names that we are talking to at this stage.
What caliber or level are they on?
We are looking at everyone from people who have worked in TV who are Emmy winners; to get more Grammy winners; and people who star in movies. We're looking at all spectrums of talent that are out there. It goes into that right combination when we look at our whole cast. Is it well-rounded with enough people? The unexpected name who might be somebody from politics, who might be from another field that you would normally not consider a singer, who will take off the mask and you'd be completely surprised. To somebody who possibly could be in the show, but you couldn't know it was them because they just sang so differently.
Could you get Ryan Reynolds to compete in the U.S. version after he did the Korean format?
He already did it once, I don't think he wants to do it again. I mean, I could tell you one name I would love to get but I don't think we'll be able to get — I would love to get Barack Obama. So if you're listening, Barack ...
When are you planning to film and when do you expect it to air? Are you going to have such a long lead time again or could you air in the fall?
We're actually meeting [with Fox] this week to go over our calendar and what our shoot schedule will be. I can't comment on that until we get that signed off on. We're constantly thinking what our format will be, what we need to tweak a little bit, what our new costumes are going to be. That's the fun part — trying to figure out our brand-new characters that are going come out and shine for America.
Have you thought about expanding the episode order?
That's what we're talking with Fox as to what it's going to be. I always go with [the adage] if it's not broke, don't fix it. We had great success with what we did here. It's just about making it better.
Do you think the show can sustain two cycles per season like other reality competition series?
That's a good question. How much can you put on the air for any show? This one has already been beta tested. If you look at Korea and Thailand, they aired those shows back to back to back, seasons-wise, and it hasn't hurt them at all. Part of the magic is they come back again with a whole new set of characters and it brings a whole new life to the show that you don't normally get with another format.
Would you consider switching to live shows? Or would the logistics of that just not work?
There's [a lot of] stuff going on editing-wise, so I think we'll probably still be a taped show, just hopefully add a little bit more security. But that's still yet to be determined 100 percent.
Could there be any changes to the judging panel?
Our goal is to bring back everyone that we had and to have more guest stars as you go along. Joel McHale and Kenan Thompson and JB Smoove were fantastic. They brought a lot of life and a fresh perspective to the show each week — fresh eyes and wonderment that you get from having that first-time guest star come over there. That's an area we'd love to explore more each week, bringing in a fresh voice.
Joey Fatone said last week that he really wanted to be a judge. Would you consider bringing in former contestants as judges?
We would be happy to have Joey as a guest judge. The great thing about Joey and our other contestants is that they bring a unique perspective when they see our new batch of contestants come and perform that none of the other judges will have. They know what they had to do to keep that a secret and also what they had to do to perform. What they have to say is really important. I would love to hear what he would say after seeing someone else perform.
Are there any other changes that you're mulling that you'd like to implement or something that you wanted to do in season one but it wasn't feasible?
Not really. We were able to do a lot of what we wanted to do. It's all about how can we make it more bizarre, a little crazier and make that spectacle larger. When you see what we're going to do in regards to the performances and what happens around those performances, that's what we can do on an even bigger scale than what we did this season.
One fun detail was when Monster sang "American Woman" and they made a little leather jacket for his costume. It was so funny.
There will be more of that next season. It's not just having them come back out in the same old outfit. You're performers, you need to dress up for that particular song and have some fun with it. We'll play with that as well as just having fun with those backup dancers. One of the things I don't think a lot of people really noticed was all the work that we did with the different backup dancers. You couldn't see their faces. Everybody had a mask on, or they covered their faces completely with something. That's the key for our show here — it's all about the masks and keeping that alive. It's a little scary sometimes when you see all these different creatures that we had in the background as well. But that's the fun part.
Are there any more security measures that you plan on taking for season two so nothing leaks?
It's just perfecting what we did already. We're going to be hiring more security people. Now that we're on everyone's radar it's making sure that, when we're filming it, everyone has given up their iPhones and cameras. It's making sure that no pictures are taken during the performances and being really on top of it. To make sure that no one has a picture of our celebrities underneath the masks. That's going to be our key for the next season, just being on top of our game. This is something that no other show has to deal with, that's unique to our format: this whole security level. It's not simply just making a great show and having a great panel and costumes and shooting it all, there's this whole other operation and side with crew of just keeping the secrets, the paperwork, the NDAs, the security guards. The logistics are monumental to do this, on top of just making a good show.
Do you have a ballpark idea of when you're planning to film?
We're already hitting the ground running in the sense of looking at costumes, looking at formats, starting the casting process. So whenever Fox says that they want it, we'll be ready to get it going.