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As The Masked Singer season two finale approaches this week, audiences have had months to take in the performances of the most recent batch of disguised celebrities competing for bragging rights as the second-ever winner of Fox’s bonkers reality competition series. But on a sweaty, sunny day in early August when the episode filmed at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, judges Robin Thicke, Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong and Nicole Scherzinger had already filmed a dozen episodes in just a month and a half.
The soundstage where Masked Singer films is also home to American Idol, but the process to enter stage 46 is much more stringent than the other singing competition. For starters, audience members of all kinds — yes, including VIP guests and family members of the judges — must sign a comprehensive nondisclosure agreement. While the first season of the series filmed in relative secrecy, there was much more attention this time around. Security measures remained the same, though — in addition to the NDAs, celebs were escorted around set in masks and robes so they weren’t recognized, and only a handful of people on the production team knew each star’s identity.
Inside, there are more differences between Masked Singer and other competitions. Unlike Idol, there is no pit where screaming tweens can clap offbeat to the performances. Instead, each audience member gets a seat for the hours-long filming. And instead of a table in front of the stage, the judges are elevated on a platform above the audience — so when they appear to be shouting down as they banter with host Nick Cannon, it’s because they are.
Astute viewers have now had two months to figure out the identities of the final three singers. But it’s far less obvious watching Fox, Flamingo and Rottweiler perform live, particularly just once. The judges have a couple weeks of context; audience members have one single performance. Knowing that the judges have so few opportunities to actually listen to the masked stars sing makes their out-of-left-field guesses seem a little less crazy, though it doesn’t explain how it took so long for them to pinpoint some extremely well-known voices (sorry, but how do you not recognize Seal?). To a season-long viewer, the final three singers seem obvious. But to a onetime audience member, everything the judges suggested seemed equally plausible.
While just three stars remained in the finale, every celebrity from the season was present that day: They all filmed a group number that will be included in the two-hour episode. And while every audience member was handed an electronic device to vote for the winner, this reporter was politely escorted out before the big reveal (or reveals, since the runners-up will be unmasked as well).
Part of The Masked Singer‘s charm is the delightful randomness of each person who agrees to compete. What do Dr. Drew, Johnny Weir and Patti LaBelle have in common under normal circumstances? Not much! But on The Masked Singer, they’re all part of a fever-dream tapestry of insanity that has turned the series from a bananas reality concept into a guilty pleasure ratings hit.
Find out who the final three singers are when The Masked Singer season two finale airs Wednesday, Dec. 18, at 8 p.m. on Fox.
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