Spoiler alert: This story contains the identity of the contestants eliminated on Wednesday night’s (May 10) episode of The Masked Singer.
You’d think that having five singers would give you a distinct advantage when going up against just one disguised vocalist on The Masked Singer. But on Wednesday night’s semifinal episode of the season, even after California Roll left it all on the stage with a killer version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” and then went head-to-five-head against Macaw and Medusa in the Battle Royale round singing Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby,” it was time for the nori to meet the road.
Once again, the panel was split on who was under the adorable sushi getups, which had intrigued the panel for weeks as the group of singers showed impressive versatility, with a haunting take on Radiohead’s “Creep,” an epic cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” and perfect harmonies on Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” As usual, panelist Ken Jeong was way off, suggesting Miami Sound Machine and the cast of In the Heights, while Nicole Scherzinger thought they might be the cast of Spring Awakening or Hamilton. Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg was on-target again by voting for chart-topping vocal group Pentatonix.
As it turns out, she was right, and before the group’s elimination on Wednesday, Billboard caught up with members Scott Hoying, Kevin Olusola and Matt Sallee (the group also includes Mitch Grassi and Kirstin Maldonado) to find out how they got rolled into participating and why hitting their signature vocal harmonies was so hard with zero eye contact.
Were you fans of the show before you were booked, and why did it take so long to get you on there, because it seems like a natural fit?
Hoying: I love the show. I think it’s such a fun idea… totally over-the-top and the costumes are so beautiful. I remember watching it and seeing how moved the people were that were on the show because when you’re hidden behind the mask, you can change your voice and sing any way you want and express yourself in ways you don’t normally get to. People actually get emotional because they feel the freedom. We definitely had that [experience], and it was the least nervous I’ve ever been performing on a television show because it felt so cozy behind the mask and we could really unleash new parts of ourselves.
Matt, what were you able to do what you typically can’t onstage, or things you lean on when you perform?
Sallee: I thought it was really cool when we were going through the arranging process and we were really excited to try new sounds and instrumentation because we’re a cappella. We were thinking, “How can we make this as enjoyable as possible because of all the instrumentation we could use?” That’s something we’ve dabbled with in our more recent music, and we wanted to show an evolution of how we can be not just an a cappella group, but can also use other instruments and sounds and still have the same Pentatonix sound.
There’s something about being under those masks. Were you able to physically express yourselves in ways you normally wouldn’t?
Olusola: That’s one of the most fun parts of this. Normally, when you’re onstage and everyone sees you, not to say you’re self-conscious, but you’re very aware of how your body moves and your angles, how your face looks because the cameras are on you. It’s all part of the presentation. When you’re behind the mask, you can really go full-out because there’s a levity to the mask — it’s an interesting, funny character — so the fun and joy that you bring the more extra moments you have onstage lends really well. So if we’re kicking onstage, if we’re jumping around, if we’re having fun with the audience doing something that would normally look outlandish, it lends super well to this show. We really went full out and we would talk about it so much afterwards: “Did you really do that on stage!?” “Yeah, I did, and I’m happy about it!”
Anything that scared you about slipping into the sushi?
Hoying: Oh man, so many anxieties. I was worried at first because our sushis were so boxy when we were in them. I was afraid we were going to be echoey. I was literally being a nerd about the acoustics, and I was also worried about being really, really hot. I get hot really easily and I worried I wouldn’t be able to sing or perform. I was also worried about falling off the stage, because I couldn’t see through the mask super well peripherally.
With a vocal group, I imagine being able to see each other and make eye contact while singing is a huge deal. How hard was it to pull that off in these ridiculous costumes?
Sallee: I was really proud of us, because we sing together — we’re together a lot, more than with our families — so we know each other really well and there is this big trust built and natural cohesiveness when we sing together. I was really proud of us for doing that apart from each other. For one of the songs we were spread out throughout the studio and not even by each other singing together. Being able to hear each other and know in our in-ear monitors that we’re all there, it was not so terribly different when we’re not having giant sushi rolls on top of us.
It’s hard enough to do choreo on a good day, but how much harder was it when you can’t see each other? Were you counting steps, worried that you would knock each other over?
Olusola: That was my main fear. You’re looking through a very limited hole, and so because of that, it limits your ability to see and your visibility is lower. That’s something I had to be extremely aware about, but also knowing that I wanted to go full out because the character I got to play. That was one of the things where my brain and body had to be in synchronization in a completely different way. At the same time, we still had so much fun and we still went full out! At some point, when you got to the actual show, we had rehearsed it enough to kind of trust our bodies, trust our ability to perform and not make any mistakes that will cause bodily harm.
Medusa seems pretty formidable. Any idea who she is?
Hoying: We have no idea, but she is sooo good! Just one of those undeniable voices, just oh my gosh.
Will you be adding any of the songs from your Masked run to your upcoming summer tour?
Hoying: I think so. I think we’ll definitely do a couple of them.