‘The Masked Singer’ sends home Broadway dreamgirl, reality TV rebelv


The Masked Singer Season 7’s Group B round wrapped Wednesday, with a double-reveal of perhaps the oddest couple in the history of this very odd show: a convict-turned-reality star who “kicks butt for a living,” and a Broadway dreamgirl with two Grammys and a Tony Award to her credit. The latter’s elimination was a shocker — judge Ken Jeong said it “might be the biggest upset in Masked Singer history” — but sadly, it was time for a certain “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” singer to go home.

The night’s first reveal was hard-shelled himbo the Armadillo, who let down his armor to warble a surprisingly tender rendition of “Amazing Grace,” a hymn his late mother had sung for him during difficult times. Although it was clear that he wasn’t a vocalist by trade and therefore would not be able to outlast the Ringmaster or Miss Teddy, this was a heartfelt performance that had weepy judge Nicole Scherzinger sighing, “You brought out the Scherzy tears! That’s one of the best versions of ‘Amazing Grace’ I’ve ever heard, because you believed it — and so did I.”

The judges knew this was a tough guy with a heart of armadillian gold, and they guessed it might be Gary Busey, Jay Leno, William H. Macy, Tommy Lee Jones or even Al Pacino (that last guess was Ken’s, of course). I thought it might be Hulk Hogan or some other famous wrestler. Only the golden-eared Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg figured out that this was Dog the Bounty Hunter, aka Duane Chapman. Who knew the Dog was such a big softie? And who knew that he could actually carry a tune? Even though he humbly said, “I don’t even sing in the shower,” he had a pretty decent set of pipes for a non-professional.

Duane really went as far as he could go on this show, but like many viewers, I was (as guest judge Leslie Jordan might say) gob-smacked that Miss Teddy didn’t make it all the way to the Season 7 finale. This week, her cover of Duffy’s “Mercy” had the judges crying out indeed, with Nicole telling her, “You are the moment this season, I swear! One of a kind! No one can touch it!” Just last week, Robin Thicke had called Miss Teddy’s Demo Lovato cover “one of the most uplifting, electrifying performances we’ve ever had in seven seasons of this show.” With her massive voice and her veteran’s command of the stage, it was clear that this was an icon.

Among the judges’ Miss Teddy guesses were Gloria Gaynor, Jennifer Hudson, CeCe Winans, Loretta Devine, Yolanda Adams, Cindy Birdsong, Mavis Staples, and Karen Clark-Sheard. But super-fan Nicole readily identified her as the one-and-only Jennifer Holiday — originator of the role of Effie White in Dreamgirls — because Nicole used to pretend she was this “living legend” in her childhood bedroom.

“I believe that it was destined to be,” Jennifer said of her Masked Singer journey. “From y’all’s very first season, my fans have been trying to guess as if it were me! And so, I think they have kind of brought me here for this. So, I was thinking about my fans who have given me so much love and support — including Nicole.”

As for the Group B bracket’s pre-elimination “Final Showdown,” all three contestants faced off on a bubbly cover of Blondie’s “One Way or Another,” and it was very close between the Ringmaster and Miss Teddy. But the Ringmaster was ultimately Group B’s last mask standing, not so much because of her Showdown performance, but for her solo tour de force earlier in the night of “I Will Always Love You.” On any other episode and in any other bracket, the almighty Jennifer Holliday would have easily prevailed (Jenny noted that Miss Teddy and the Ringmaster were “equally amazing,” and called Wednesday’s verdict “heartbreaking”). But this week, no one could beat the hoop-skirted, honey-throated mistress of ceremonies.

“That was the greatest performance ever. … That was truly the most beautiful, epic performance we have ever had on The Masked Singer. If you don’t win, I’m coming back with a shaved head next season,” declared Jenny, after the Ringmaster channeled both Whitney and Dolly. (No G.I. Jane jokes, please!) Nicole also told the Ringmaster, “Honestly, I’m floored and blown away by you right now.”

As for the Ringmaster’s identity, I feel confident that she is The Goldbergs actress and country crooner Hayley Orrantia, for whom music is a “first love.” All of the past clues — starting with that “Golden State” driver’s license, a reference to Hayley’s long-running sitcom — add up. The Ringmaster said she’s a “’90s chick,” and Hayley was born in 1994. One visual clue was Miley Cyrus’s face on a Montana map, and Hayley sang background vocals on the Hannah Montana Forever soundtrack. The bottle of Sweet Southern whiskey was a reference to Hayley’s 2016 single “Strong, Sweet & Southern.” The tic-tac-toe X represented Hayley’s time on The X Factor USA in 2011, plus the Ringmaster once told Nicole, “It’s nice to see you again” — and Nicole was a judge on Hayley’s X Factor season. Finally, John Oates once sent the Ringmaster a good-luck video message, and the Hall & Oates legend is Hayley’s pal and a past Goldbergs guest star.

And so, the Ringmaster is moving on to join her fellow Team Good member from Group A, the Firefly — who I steadfastly believe is dancer/singer Teyana Taylor — in the finals. But before that, next week we will meet the last batch of contestants, from Group C: Baby Mammoth, Frog Prince, Jack in the Box, Queen Cobra, and Space Bunny. (Side note: Now in its seventh season, this series is clearly running out of decent character names.) Will one of those Group C-listers be the dreaded Rudy Giuliani? I sincerely hope not, but according to Newsweek, the polarizing politician’s performance has not been edited out of the show, despite the outrage that erupted — among the fandom and the judges — when news leaked of his participation. So… that’ll be an interesting episode, when (or if) it airs. My guess is Rudy’s the snake. See you then.

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