Why ‘The Masked Singer U.K.’ is cooler and crazier than the U.S. version

0 9 months ago

The Masked Singer Season 3 is only getting started in America and has already unmasked couple surprisingly credible musical contestants, Lil Wayne and Chaka Khan. But the British version of the show, which wraps this weekend with a final sing-off between the Octopus, Hedgehog, and Queen Bee, is even cooler. The Masked Singer U.K.’s first season for ITV attracted so many luminaries from the worlds of Britpop, hip-hop, electro, and metal, next week’s BRIT Awards probably won’t be able to top it.

For instance, the Daisy turned out to be “Milkshake” badass Kelis, who brought all the boys to the yard with her petal-pushing, psychedelic performances of “Can’t Feel My Face” by the Weeknd, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt, and Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.”

But even more unforgettable was the Unicorn, who made his colorful TV debut prancing and hoofing about to Kate Bush’s “Babooshka.” Kate frickin’ Bush! It was pure theater. The sexy beast’s cover of “Girls & Boys” by Blur was also a horny delight. This magical creature turned out to be Jake Shears, a massive star in Britain (his electro-glam band Scissor Sisters’ self-titled debut was the top-selling album in the U.K. for all of 2004), in the role he was clearly born to play.

And then we had Justin Hawkins, the brilliantly shapeshifting frontman of “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” rawk ‘n’ roll crusaders the Darkness, wearing a second-skin Chameleon sheath that actually wasn’t a huge departure from his usual sequined unitards. The Chameleon’s lovely song selections included Radiohead’s “Creep” (good, though not as fantastic as the Darkness’s own shredding speed-metal version of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit”) and an unexpectedly tender interpretation of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” complete with LED special effects that had judge Rita Ora swooning. I just wish he’d done something by the Flying Lizards… or by the Chameleons!

The Monster was revealed to be another major pop sensation, former Voice coach CeeLo Green, who roared Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Rag’n’Bone Man’s “Human,” Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” and George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.” Does it make me crazy that I think these were CeeLo’s gnarliest, best performances in years? (He also did Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha,” so I really want a Eurovision-style Masked Singer World Smackdown round at some point between him and Seal, a.k.a. the Leopard, who performed that song on the U.S. version of the series.)

Skin, the singularly named, fearsome frontwoman of ‘90s Britrock band Skunk Anansie (one of the most successful U.K. chart acts of 1952-2003, according to the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums), turned out to be the Duck. And she was ducking great. She covered everything from Stormzy to Bon Jovi to “Ave Maria,” and she fit the bill.

My only gripe is that I don’t believe for a minute that the judging panel — which also included Masked Singer regular Ken Jeong and British television presenters Jonathan Ross and Davina McCall — struggled to identify any of these singers, all of whom possess extremely distinctive and idiosyncratic voices very recognizable to the mainstream British audience. I definitely clocked those Justin and Jake falsettos the instant both costumed contestants opened their big furry mouths. But, suspension of disbelief aside, The Masked Singer U.K. was the superior show — the Glastonbury of Masked Singers, if you will.

In the meantime, The Masked Singer U.S. continues Wednesday, with the Banana, Elephant, Kitty, Mouse, Frog, and Taco. And I’m hoping at least one of them dares to sing some Kate Bush.

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