In Week 3, his performance of "All of Me" by John Legend brought judge Nicole Scherzinger to tears, and it soon became evident that the man under the half-robot half-porcupine costume was an actual singer. Guest panelist Chrissy Metz and Scherzinger were able to combine their hunches based on the clue packages and correctly guess that Robopine was singer/songwriter/actor Tyrese.
"It's one of the most exciting things I've done all year that I couldn't post about," he says. "I had to definitely practice restraint, because I love posting. I love talking about things and inspiring people and addressing politics, police brutality and whatever is going on in the world."
Billboard spoke to Tyrese about why he pretended to be 60 years old and how it felt being compared to Jamie Foxx.
How did you end up on the show?
Well, I have to give my daughter credit for that, my 13-year-old Shayla. During the COVID pandemic, we're all at home, and of course my daughter's on Netflix and Hulu and she's binge-watching all these seasons of everything. She started watching all the seasons of The Masked Singer, and it's like full blast. She's like, "Dad, you should do this show. I know you would win this." I appreciated her vote of confidence, but I was like, "Shayla, I don't be wearing no masks. I don't really know if this is something that makes sense for me." Then all of a sudden, I got a phone call that I got an offer to come and do the show! And after I booked [it], I couldn't even tell my daughter, and I was like, "Well, why not?!" So I would just leave the house every day and tell my daughter I'm going somewhere to do something and could not tell her that I was doing The Masked Singer. She's the one who told me about this, so it became a very unique experience, to say the least.
Robopine was one of the costumes that they presented to me, and because I'm a creative and I love to collaborate, I said, "I want to add a red eye to Robo. I want to add a red fingertip on Robo." I wanted to really kind of hand this all up. I said to them, "I want to add a whole lot of muscles [but] please don't make it unbearable for me to walk around." It took two to three people to get me in and out of my costume every day. It was just really interesting, everything about the whole process.
You also made a lot of references to being 60 years old -- what was that about?
I did that because my fans and supporters who've been rocking with me from day one, they all know everything about my life. I'm kind of known in my own little way as like a motivational speaker person, and you can't motivate anybody if you're not willing to share and unpack. I had to tell [the judges] 60 years old, grandfather, two grandkids because I just wanted to throw them completely off. Because if [I told] them my actual story, they think that people aren't going to be smart enough to put two and three and four together. So every episode, "It's Eddie Levert! It's Jamie Foxx!" They were always hinting at people that were a little older than me. And I'm 42, so I was like, "Well, let me throw people off." So every time they were guessing someone older than me, I was like, "Now we're talking. Maybe I'll be able to get through a few more episodes if they actually believe I'm 60."
Some of the judges were adamant on you being Jamie Foxx. What did you think of that comparison?
I love that, because Jamie Foxx is truly one of the most giftedly talented people out there. He was just at my house a couple of days ago. He won his second Oscar and all that happened in my living room. [Editor's note: Foxx starred in best animated feature winner Soul, but that award goes to the producers of the Disney/Pixar film, not the cast.]
Yeah, I posted it on my Instagram, and the crazy thing is we've never even done music together. He's in Atlanta right now just like me, and we live like five minutes from each other, so when I uploaded that video of him celebrating his Oscar win in my living room, even that threw people off. Like, "Wait, how is Tyrese and Jamie Foxx in the same room? I don't think they would do that if either one of them was on The Masked Singer."
You performed a lot of classics. Walk me through those song choices.
I'm an R&B soul singer, so I haven't really tapped into what a lot of the younger artists are doing and singing these days. When I listen to music, I pull from the things that inspire me, how I sing and do background. I don't listen to anything that's happening right now. I tend to listen to stuff from that era. And that's no disrespect to the new artists, I just think the music and the culture of music has shifted. It's a lot of Auto-Tune and this is what radio is playing, this is what they're used to. So I didn't really want to get on there and play this game of make believe that I'm 17 and I'm gonna get out there trying to dance and be something that I'm not. I was like, let me sing the records that I know I can sing and go about it in a confident way.
Considering you're an actual singer and this is a singing competition, did you think you were going to win?
I didn't think I would make it to as many episodes as I did. Literally I was like, "All right, well this will be my last episode," and then they voted somebody else off and voted somebody else. It's just such a world, you know? And then I was asking questions about other stars that's been on the show in the past, how far they made it, this and that. And I was like, "Wait, such-and-such got voted off?! She sold more records than me or he's won Grammys. Sh--, I might not make it to the end." I started feeling like, "Let's not think you got this thing in the bank, you know? Ain't no guarantee you're going to go all the way to the end." They kept the competition thick.