Spoiler alert: This story contains information about contestants eliminated on Wednesday’s (Sept. 28) episode of The Masked Singer.
The cutthroat format of season 8 of The Masked Singer is unforgiving. With just one vocalist moving forward from each episode, Wednesday night’s go-round saw the early bouncing of an international boy band superstar who has sold more than 70 million albums.
The “Vegas Night” episode opened with season 1 runner-up Donnie Osmond singing a medley of “The Greatest Show” and Elvis’ classic Sin City homage “Viva Las Vegas” alongside dancing human dice and showgirls.
The night kicked off, however, with Hummingbird getting kicked off after last week’s solid cover of Gavin DeGraw’s reality singing show staple “I Don’t Want to Be.” And while he was a bit surprised — and maybe a little hurt that despite selling millions of albums and singles with his world-famous boy band in the 1990s and early 2000s — the guesses were mostly of the NFL persuasion. Names including Deion Sanders, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were tossed out, before matchbox twenty’s Rob Thomas and Uncle Kracker were hurled into the mix. He should have been a bit annoyed, since the man under the towering wings and headpiece was none other than *NSYNC‘s Chris Kirkpatrick.
Before his elimination, Billboard spoke to Kirkpatrick about getting razzed by bandmate — and fellow Masked veteran — Joey Fatone, figuring out a whole new way to perform, and why he’s totally fine with the transition from freaking-out teen girls to screaming moms in his audience.
Did you watch the show before coming on?
I definitely watched it — Joey was on it — so I had to tune in [then] to understand what he was doing. I’ve definitely seen a lot of episodes.
Joey did OK when he was on the first season. Was there any way for you to, low-key, ask his advice or get pointers?
I tried to keep it really close to the hip, which was kind of hard. I knew a bunch of people who’ve been on it, like Chris Daughtry, and it took everything in my power not to say, “Hey, give me some hints, help me out, tell me what they’re looking for.” The only person who knew was my wife.
Gavin’s song is s staple of singing competition shows. Why did you pick it and what were you trying to get across musically?
I picked that song because I wanted to go in a different direction. I figured I’m known for my high falsetto with the band and I thought I should go with something lower and different so they wouldn’t immediately know who I am. Though I was watching on Twitter and a lot of people were like, “I sure like Hummingbird on my feed!” I had to be like, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” A lot of true fans knew and they said they knew it was me the minute I opened my mouth. Certain bands have a following where fans know your voice so well inside and out that you can put on any costume and mask and they’ll know who it is.
That’s a testament to your talent, no?
Yes. I wanted to change it up a bit and do something different than what they might think I would do. It is pretty flattering they knew right away.
You’re used to bouncing around stage while singing, but it definitely looked like those giant wings and head made that harder.
The wings and that large head definitely slowed me down. We even went over some choreo in rehearsals and in doing it it was so hard… I was hitting people with those wings and I had to have modifications [on the costume] so I could even walk. When I first walked out, it was hitting me in the back of the legs and I couldn’t move at all.
Plus, you’re 5’9″ according to the Internet, but I assume it’s fun to get closer to 6 feet tall, right?
Oh man, it was so insane. Not only was it tall, but it was also long because it had that long beak and the wings. So when I was walking around, it was like 3-D Tetris, trying to fit around and under things in the hallway [backstage], like, “Can I fit through this?” Anyone who is on the show will tell you that being in that costume is so hard. But the weight of it alone — between the head and wings — it was really weighing me down. I’m used to just singing and dancing, but adding the costume — vocally you really have to change almost everything you’re used to doing in performing.
If I’m being honest, the guesses were kind of weird and oddly sports-focused. How did you feel about that?
When they first started suggesting them I thought, “Man, did I sound bad?” I’m thinking, “I’m a singer, this is what I do — I may be in a costume, but this is what I do!” When they were guessing the sports guys, I was like, “Man, I think I must have done something wrong!” It was Johnny Manziel, Peyton Manning, but then when they said Rob Thomas and Uncle Kracker, that made me feel better.
Have you heard from any former bandmates who knew it was you? Joey made it to episode 8 in season 1, so surely he must have known it was you.
Oh yeah, Joey definitely texted me and was like, “So how was The Masked Singer? I was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and he said, “whatever, Hummingbird.” I couldn’t even acknowledge it, but he said I sounded good and that I should be proud. When you sing with a guy for 25 years they definitely know your voice.
You’re not the first boy bander to do the show — they’ve had Nick Carter, Bobby Brown, Hanson, Nick Lachey — why do you think it appeals to former boy band members?
I just think it’s fun, whimsical. It’s something different we’re not used to doing. We’re used to walking out and doing choreography and singing our parts. This was almost like being stripped-down just to the voice and so you have to just sing and be who you are vocally. That was really tough. I was sitting with the vocal coach, who is amazing, and they were helping me understand how even with the heaviness of the costume you can still “hear” facial expressions in a song. But, for the most part, we wouldn’t get to really interact with the audience or people at home visually, so I had to try and figure out working the song as the character more than as myself.
You’ve sold 70 million albums with *NSYNC and are instantly recognizable to a whole generation, so were you a bit disappointed to get bounced so early? To be fair, Lil Wayne was one and done as well.
I think if the format was different I would have been really disappointed. But the fact that you had four on [one episode] and only one person won that show. If I look at it as I came in third to last, instead of last, at least I made the final two. Listening to Harp… she was amazing. I was like, “My time is done.”
What’s next for you, what are you working on?
I’ver been doing a Pop 2000 tour, which has been so much fun to host and do a couple songs [alongside Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath (another Masked veteran), LFO, Ryan Cabrera and David Cook]. It’s been a really fun, busy year that started with me doing Big Brother and then I did a commercial or two, then filmed an episode of Cribs [reboot] and I have some other things in the works.
We’re just a few years away from *NSYNC’s 30th anniversary. Can you believe it’s been that long since you guys first blew up?
Man, when you say it like that, you kind of put things in perspective. I don’t think about it that way, but when you put it in that timeframe… the way I see it is if I do these shows or different events, you can always tell by the fans. It wasn’t what it was in the ’90s or 2000s, not teenage girls, but now moms and teenage girls looking at you like, “I have no idea who you are but my mom knows who you are.” It’s cool because I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who said, “I was in high school and couldn’t afford a ticket or it was too far away, but now I can afford a ticket and a T-shirt and drinks with my friends.” They get to have fun with their friends and relive their youth.