[Spoiler alert: This story contains the identity of the winner of Wednesday night’s (May 20) The Masked Singer finale.]
And so, just like that, season three of The Masked Singer is in the books. It was a wild one, to be sure, and Wednesday night’s finale had all the drama you’d expect from a season that opened with Lil Wayne (Robot) getting the boot, and included the elimination of several iconic singers (Miss Monster Chaka Khan and Mouse Dionne Warwick), one reality star politician (Bear Sarah Palin), as well as a skateboarding legend, a football icon and a baseball fury (Elephant Tony Hawk, White Tiger Rob Gronkowski and Rhino Barry Zito).
Add in a metal singer and a country star (Banana Poison‘s Bret Michaels and Astronaut Hunter Hayes) and a former reality singing sensation (Kitty Jackie Evancho) and what could possibly top that action?
How about a coronation for Night Angel, a season-long favorite who mesmerized the home and studio audiences with killer performances of songs by Wayne (“How to Love”), Donna Summer (“Last Dance“), Andra Day (“Rise Up“), Lady Gaga (“Million Reasons,”) Bon Jovi (“You Give Love a Bad Name”), as well as Alannah Myles, The Isley Brothers and Shania Twain. Oh, and she capped it off with a little number from Tina Turner (“River Deep, Mountain High”) that looked easy in her glittery hands.
It wasn’t a surprise that Angel got so far, because after all, she is a Grammy-winning songwriter (TLC, “No Scrubs”), a former member of an adored vocal group (Xcscape) and, not for nothing, already a reality TV star (The Real Housewives of Atlanta). Still in the dark? Well, so were the judges, who guessed everyone from Monica to TLC’s Chilli, Toni (and Tamar) Braxton, Regina King and Taraji P. Henson. They were, of course, all wrong, especially Ken Jeong, because the Angel in disguise was none other than Kandi Burruss.
Billboard caught up with Burruss before her coronation to talk Bon Jovi, why the show is way more fun that Housewives and which other contestant had her shaking in her mask. Check out our interview below.
You really showed your range on the show, going from rock with your opening Bon Jovi tune, and then pop with Lady Gaga, hip-hop, soul, country. Were you flexing, or did you go all over the place to throw the judges off?
That was my goal. My thought process was, “this is a show that everybody loves” and no matter what genre of music a person listened to they love this show. So I wanted to do all different kinds of music that everybody from every walk of life would be familiar with or they liked. And on top of that I definitely didn’t wan to do R&B because that would immediately give it away. I started off with a rock song and figured then I could show off my vocals but people wouldn’t recognize my voice right off.
Did anyone guess it was you after Bon Jovi?
A lot of people didn’t know for sure after the first song, but as we went along a couple songs gave it away. One that I thought really gave it away for me was the Shania Twain song, because it’s in my lower register and you could really hear my vibrato really strong on that one. I wanted to do a country song, but I should have picked one in my higher range. In Xscape I sang all the lower parts so it was easier to recognize my voice when I sang in my lower register.
How soon did people start guessing it was you?
None of the guest judges were guessing me at first. Jenny I know personally, so I thought she would guess me from day one, but she didn’t, so that threw me off. But once it started airing on TV fans knew immediately. My husband and my daughter, when I first told them, they were like, “They’re gonna know who you are as soon as you open your mouth.” So I did this fake accent for most of the season thinking, “Well, maybe I can throw them off if they don’t hear my real voice.”
You said you had some insecurities going in, which is surprising since you came off so confident. What was empowering for you about singing in a mask and did it help tamp down those fears?
Yes! Being behind that mask helped me so much! I didn’t go into it thinking it would have this effect on me. At first I was scared out of my mind since it had been a long time since I perfumed by myself on stage. But when I realized people are only judging you based off your voice or performance, they’re not judging you based on if they like you off another show, or if you you had a hit because there are no preconceived notions of who this person is… it’s just Night Angel, so no one judged me for anything but my voice.
You’ve written songs, been a performer and have plenty of TV experience, but were there any new skills you had to learn for this show?
Oh my gosh, yes! Okay? I’ll tell anybody that performing with that mask and that costume on… oh my God. I could not breath at first when I put it on for dress rehearsal. I had been dancing and singing in rehearsal, but on the first day of dress rehearsal I got on stage and I could barely make it through the song because I couldn’t breathe and those wings restrained me from being able to move a lot. And the mask over my face was so hot! I would be sweating so bad under that thing! So I got a hockey mask and a ski mask and I started practicing at home with the whole getup on because that was the only way to help me get used to singing with all the stuff on.
Why do this show now?
They had reached out to me for season one and I thought about it, but my group Xscape had reunited for some touring, so I didn’t do it. But when I watched it and saw T-Pain I thought it was so dope, so I said if the opportunity came around again I thought I would do it. So they reached out and I thought if everything worked out with the timing it seemed like it would be fun. I didn’t realize it was something I could make to the end and win. I’m glad I did it.
What appealed to you about the Night Angel costume?
I was supposed to have a different costume and we had settled on one and they called me back a week later and said another costume became available, would you want to try this one? When I saw it I was like, “That is me.” She’s an angel but she has a dark side. It’s a really beautiful costume and I’m glad I got it.
As the season went on you visibly gained confidence, when did it feel like you might have a chance at winning and what gave you that boost?
Oh my goodness. I’m not gonna lie, the first few performances, every day I was panicking. “Oh my God, am I gonna be kicked off? It was pretty far in… I will say my top nine performance was one of my favorites. When I did “Rise Up.” On that night I felt like I’m definitely going to the next round in my mind. After that there were a couple where I was like, “I don’t know if I’m gonna make it this night.” It worked out, but I think all the way to the last performance I was like, “I’m not totally sure that I would win,” because Turtle, I felt like he had an amazing voice and Frog was an amazing performer, he knows how to rock the crowd and that’s his thing. In my mind it was maybe the first time a rapper could win this. His performance and his energy, it might be an upset. So I was like, “It really could be any man’s game, but it ended up being a woman’s.
You beat out Dionne Warwick, Chaka Khan, Snoop Dogg, that must have felt pretty good?
Right? Chaka Khan was like…. I mean when I saw that she was on there I thought, “How in the world am I on the same competition as Chaka Khan? A legend?” Her voice is amazing. I got kind of scared when I saw that episode, I’m not gonna like. Because we don’t know who is getting put off or whatever, so when I got to the top nine performance and I didn’t see her there, I was like, “Whoo! I might make it!”
The guesses were all over the place, all pretty impressive: Chilli, Monica, Regina King. But it seemed like Jenny and Robin were pretty sure it was you by the end and you said they know you. How did nobody else guess correctly?
I don’t know [laughs]. Like I said, I know Jenny and I thought she was going to guess me on episode one. And Robin had guessed me on prior seasons for different people. I know when Adrian Bailon [Flamingo] was performing he kept saying my name and he did it as well in season one. And you know what cracks me up? He said one night, “This voice is familiar, probably someone from a group and Jenny said, “Do you think it could be Kandi because you guessed her before?” He was like, “Naw, naw, naw.” I was like, really? He just totally dismissed me after all this time he’d been guessing me and now I’m right here in your face and you’re totally dismissing me? I just thought it was hilarious!
How does this compare to the vibe on Real Housewives?
This vibe is better. It’s positive energy, it’s love. Every time you perform they uplift you and make you feel good that you’re doing well. They make you want to do better, whereas on Housewives it’s a constant teardown. “You ain’t hot, you ain’t did nothin’, oh why you this, you shouldn’t even be here!” It’s a night and day situation.
The show was filmed before the pandemic, but did you hope that that inherent joy you just described might help people at home at this time? That they’re getting that uplift?
I think people definitely are. That’s the cool thing bout this show, people love it because it makes them feel good because it’s so positive, because the whole family can sit together and watch it. Our kids can watch it, our grandparents, the whole family can sit together and laugh and make guesses about who you think this person is or who their favorite is. You can be in a competition with each other, “this is my pick,” or “that is my pick.” Everybody can just enjoy it and call their friends. Even I, mind you I was on the show, but even I like to go online and see people’s guesses. And I hate the fact that I can’t join in and make guesses. You know I don’t know anyone else on the show? The only one I figured out was Frog. And until today I don’t know who Turtle is and I won’t know until tonight.
What was the wildest guess you saw online?
It was Pat Benatar. I was like huh? I mean I like her. Oh, and somebody said Stevie Nicks! I was like “ooh she’s dope, she’s amazing!” That would be great company.
Now that you have the crown, what does winning mean to you?
I definitely am kind of surprised, I’m not gonna lie. I wanted to win, obviously, everyone wants to win, but a lot of times I had so much self-doubt. Turtle had me spooked from the first time I watched him perform on TV. He was in an earlier group… I was not even there when I saw him perform and I was like, “Ooh, he’s good!”
I would say for me it was a total boost of confidence. It re-energized me and how I feel about doing music again. For a long time I got behind the scenes and stayed there and was not really focused on myself as an artist anymore because I didn’t really feel like… “maybe nobody is checkin’ for me.” I lost confidence in my voice, but doing this show it let me know… of course I get the negativity from the fans on Housewives. But if someone is not judging me based on something I did on a reality show, this is just about my voice, my performance that night then I can still be a winner.
There’s a fanbase that can still appreciate my music and that was a great part about this. “Okay, I can still do my thing. There are people who love my voice or appreciate it” and that made me feel really good. Not only that, you know I’m the queen of girl power. So to be the first woman and bring it home for the ladies? That was a joy in itself. During the second or third-to-last episode when I realized that no other woman had won this before. And it wasn’t even that, but no woman had gotten past third place? I was like to be able to take it home was a big deal to me.
Talk to me about “Used to Love Me,” your new single which drops tonight. It’s such a fun, uptempo track. Why come back with that song?
It’s a feel-good song to make people dance, have a good time. I wanted to do something totally different from what than what I’ve done in the past and what people would expect of me, so that’s why I chose it. It’s a song that immediately when you play it the beat makes you want to dance. It’s super catchy and it’s easy, so I just wanted a song that everybody can dance to.
It sounds perfect for the clubs, made for a bunch of remixes.
Thank you. That’s what I was going for. Unfortunately, we can’t go to the club right now., but we can still dance.
How you end up working with Todrick Hall and Precious?
Todrick is a friend of mine and I absolutely love his music and I think he’s a dope songwriter. I was just like, “C’mon and jump on this record for me.” I felt like he would be a good fit, especially with his last single, “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels,” which had the same dance vibe. So I thought he would be a great fit for this record and Precious is from the club and ballroom scene and I had seen her posting videos on Instagram and I wanted somebody to chant on my record, so I was like, “i’m gonna sing you this and I want you to chant on it.”
Is this your musical rebirth as an artist?
For sure. I definitely plan on dropping more music in the future, hopefully an EP or an album in the coming months. For now I just wanted to drop a single and let people get used to the idea of me releasing music again.
Listen to “Used to Love Me” below.