Spoiler alert: This story contains the identity of the contestants eliminated on Wednesday night’s (May 17) episode of The Masked Singer.
After a wild season that has seen everyone from beloved actors (Dick Van Dyke, Malin Akerman, George Wendt, Lou Diamond Phillips) to the usual compliment of athletes (Alexa Bliss, Keenan Allen) and professional singers (Sara Evans, Debbie Gibson, Michael Bolton, Dee Snider, Pentatonix) and a variety of other celebs taking their turns in wild costumes, The Masked Singer aired the final battle of season 9 on Wednesday night.
In the end, it came down to Macaw and Medusa, two seasonlong front-runners who laid it all out in an epic battle for the title. Macaw seemed to have a legit run at the crown after a series of impressive performances, including emotional covers of Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying,” Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” and Elton John’s “Your Song,” as well as a soaring take on One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.”
For the finale, Macaw went for another falsetto-heavy ballad, with a dramatic take on James Bay’s “Hold Back the River” that ended with the singer drenched in white confetti as they flapped their wings and swooned around the stage, returning later in the episode with what seemed like a potential deal-closing cover of Eric Carmen’s iconic 1975 power ballad “All By Myself.”
The guesses were all over the place, with the always-wrong Ken Jeong calling it the best performance this season and Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg doubling down on her guess of former One Directioner Zayn Malik, then noting that one of the clues was about coming out, which led her to guess star of stage and screen Neil Patrick Harris.
That added to the constellation of guesses over the season that ranged from Hoobastank singer Doug Robb to actors Elijah Wood and Macaulay Culkin, to vocalists Ryan Cabrera and Daniel Bedingfield. Nicole Scherzinger initially tagged Macaw as Darren Criss, before nailing the real Macaw: American Idol season 7 runner-up David Archuleta.
The singer, who has released eight albums since his Idol ouster in 2008 — including 2020’s Therapy Sessions — spoke to Billboard before Wednesday night’s finale, embracing his dance moves and why a potentially career-ending vocal cord issue and his drama-filled reality TV background almost kept him from feathering his Masked nest.
How did it feel when the judges jumped up and cheered you on during your Tim McGraw cover early in the season?
I honestly wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t know what to expect as far as reaction. What I love about the panel is they’re just cheering you on. They’re also entertainers cheering on their peers, dressing up in costumes and singing songs they don’t normally sing. They know what it’s like to be under pressure, and they’re there to help you and lift you up. It’s a shockingly positive experience compared to what you usually experience with reality TV.
You showed off you dance moves in your “Faith in Me” video last year, and you definitely busted them out again during your 1D cover. Are you comfortable dancing onstage?
I’m trying to get more into dancing. I was taking dance classes in 2020 and I stopped, but it got me moving around more and I really love to dance. I wanted to have more to work with, but it was kind of tricky to move with that big Macaw head on my shoulders. “What Makes You Beautiful” was the most fun I’ve ever had onstage. I’ve never sung that song onstage, and everyone from my generation and younger loves and knows that song, so having everyone sing it at the top of their lungs was so much fun!
Did wearing the costume make it easier to move?
It did, because I didn’t feel like I had to be anyone in particular, like, “This is my image and this is how people know me.” Macaw was a great way for me to figure out if I was more out and present and colorful and vibrant.
Was that what appealed to you about Macaw? What were you able to do under that beak that you can’t without it?
I would say more than anything it was about allowing people to see me. A lot of my wardrobe lately has been black, gray and white or neutral because sometimes colors overwhelm me and I don’t want people to look at me. Red is the strongest color, and a lot of times I put a red shirt on and change out of it because it’s too intense. But to have a full red costume? That’s bold and says, “Look at me!” That was hard for me to accept. How do I make this big red bird work when I’m so used to staying hidden and staying in my corner? But I had to learn how to do it.
You said you weren’t sure you were ready to be judged again — why do the show then? What were you afraid of?
Just the pressure from the [panel] of being judged. I took it very seriously, because the way I grew up, the type of person I was, I was a lot more introverted and not able to speak up for myself. The way I was trained was to take criticism and instructions and follow them. I grew up in a very strict religion with a lot of rules I had to follow from my parents — you know the odd dynamic between my dad and me on Idol — so whenever I got judged, I would take it very personally and seriously. To be onstage again, I didn’t want to deal with that and what other people think of me, because I want to be my own person now. The Masked Singer panel is not judging, just commenting and supporting and cheering you on. It was healing.
You said in the episode that you had a major injury that silenced you for three months and a big personal upheaval that made you question whether you could perform like this again. What inspired you to overcome those setbacks and give it a shot?
What pushed me was learning what it feels like to allow myself to give me self-love. That was difficult for me because I spent so much of my life thinking that the right thing to do was not to love myself, that there were parts of me that aren’t OK. “I have feelings for guys and I am attracted to guys, and that’s not acceptable” is how I was raised. To step into that place and say, “I can love myself and I don’t have to be perfect” … I felt like I needed to go in a direction I haven’t been before, because where I was before, I hit my limit and it almost collapsed on myself. I hit the bottom, and what I was doing before was not working. It led to a very dark place and I decided I needed to go into a new space and re-create myself and try new things. In the process of doing that, I found a lot of happiness and light and hope.
Your second song on the finale was the poignant “All By Myself.” What does that song mean to you? It sounded like you got a bit emotional afterwards.
That was the narrative I thought I was destined to have, because growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they teach the purpose of life is to have a family and get married and have kids. But as I dated girls, I realized I was not being honest with myself and it felt very off. It felt like these girls deserved to be with someone who genuinely connects with them and deserves them. They would say, “If you’re gay it’s OK, but you still need to marry the opposite sex if want to be happy.” I tried that, and then they say if you don’t you need to be celibate and alone, you can’t be in a relationship with the same sex if you want to receive God’s blessing. I contemplated that and said, “I don’t want to be alone. Why is this required of me when everyone else gets to have a companion?” That song embodied my whole journey: No, I won’t be by myself. I’m letting go of that narrative of my life and allowing myself to be who I want to love.
I hate to say it, but another second-place finish. Was that disappointing?
No, to be honest. Medusa was killing it and Bishop Briggs [Medusa] is an incredible performer. I don’t think TV does justice to how great a performer she is. She is so alive, and I got goosebumps every time she sang. Between her energy and the sushi rolls [Pentatonix as California Roll], I thought, “what reason is there for me to continue? I want to keep watching these people.” I wasn’t expecting to make the finale and it didn’t feel like I deserved it, but I just wanted to have fun. And the reason I’m here must be to continue sharing my journey with people, and hopefully it will lift people up. I’m happy that I made it to the finale of another competition.
Tell me about your new single “Up” and the album you’re working on.
It comes out on June 2nd and it’s about moving forward in my life. I had a hard time accepting myself, because they teach you that you can never accept this about you: If you admit that you’re LGBT in any way, if you’re gay, you are basically saying your’e rebelling, giving away the most important thing in your life, almost like you’re a traitor. I’ve tried everything, but to choose this, this is naturally who I am. I’m attracted to guys. I tried for over a decade to be anything but that. I thought I was a failure, so when I hit rock bottom there was nothing to do but embrace this and see what life is and embrace everything I am and just rise. There’s nowhere to go but up when you hit a dark place.