[Spoiler alert: this story contains the identity of the eliminated contestant on Wednesday night’s The Masked Singer.]
With one of the most iconic sounds, and looks, in music, the only way the singer inside the Leopard costume on The Masked Singer could have made it as far as he did without being revealed was by doing some clever acting to cover his tracks. Which is exactly what “Kiss From a Rose” singer Seal did in order to make it all the way to Wednesday night’s (Dec. 11) season two semi-final of the hit Fox singing game show.
From flirting with and pretending to propose to host Nick Cannon to creeping outside his typically ballad-heavy vocal safe space with upbeat covers of songs by .fun (“We Are Young”), Katy Perry (“Teenage Dream”) and Shawn Mendes (“Stitches”), the singer gave it one more shot on Wednesday’s holiday-themed show with a big, brassy take on Shirley Bassey’s “Big Spender,” only to get the hook at the end of the show — making judges Nicole Scherzinger and Robin Thicke very happy after they correctly guessed his identity. (Sorry Ken Jeong, once again you were way off with your slam-dunk Jeff Goldblum conjecture.)
In the process, the Grammy-winner made it past Destiny’s Child‘s Michelle Williams, iconic R&B diva Patti LaBelle, as well as Kelly Osbourne, Ana Gasteyer, Raven-Symoné, Dr. Drew, gamer Ninja and several other non-singing celebs. But the jig was up during Wednesday night’s double-elimination — which also took out Thingamajig (NBA star Victor Oladipo) — which means only Flamingo, Fox and Rottweiler will vie for the title next Wednesday (Dec. 18) during a special two-hour finale.
Billboard caught up with Seal to find out how he managed to keep his world-renowned voiced masked for so long on the show.
It seemed like you tried to throw people off with your gender-bending costume and proposing to Nick. Was that an intentional smoke screen?
Gender bender, that’s me! Totally. Gender bender Seal, that’s me.
Did you personally pick the ambiguous Leopard costume?
It was collective. We thought we’d stay along the animal theme — you know, Seal, Leopard — and a Leopard allows me to be androgynous, I guess.
And how did that feel? Did it feel liberating?
Yes, yes. It’s opened up all sort of horizons for me.
It did seem like you fully embraced it, busting out some sensual hip swivels and rolled R‘s when you covered The Pussycat Dolls’ “Dont Cha.”
Well, you have to, don’t you? Otherwise you’re kind of wasting everyone’s time. The art department did such an amazing job with the costume and the mask. You really kind of owed it to both them and yourself to really have fun and get into it. I loved it.
You said you did it for your kids because they’re big fans. I assume you couldn’t tell them? Because from what I’ve heard, there are quite ominous non-disclosure agreements — plus, kids are terrible at keeping secrets.
They figured it out. They were not fooled for one second from the get-go. [Laughs.]
From the first episode?
No, not the first episode. When I stopped disguising my speaking voice in episode three.
What did they say to you? How does one lie to their children about something like this?
I didn’t lie to them, actually, I just kind of played like “I can neither confirm nor deny” and we had fun with it. They knew it was me, though.
Did you watch season one? What was your first reaction when they asked you to be on this season?
No, I didn’t. To be completely honest with you, the one and only episode I’ve watched was [Wednesday night’s elimination], and that’s because I watched it with my son. I just wanted to see the expression on his face. I know [my children] were huge fans, but I’d always been traveling… I wasn’t aware of it the first season and never really got the chance.
What was it like watching it with your son?
I was the second reveal, so he didn’t want me to be revealed — because he knew it was me, but he wanted me to make it to the finale. He was like “ohhhhhh!!!” He was semi-disppointed, but also excited that he was right.
What was the best reaction you got once you were revealed?
My son, even though he knew it was me. That was the best reaction.
You have such an instantly recognizable speaking and singing voice. Did you work with someone to try to tamp it down or disguise it, like Kelly Osbourne did with her thick Southern accent?
No, I put this affectation on my voice that did a pretty good job of disguising it becuase the panel didn’t recognize it was me until I took that off. Then Robin was like, “Wait a minute, I know that voice!”
I read you even go through choreography training to conceal your idenity. What did they suggest you do?
No, not to conceal your identity. The choreography is just part of the show. But I don’t think it’s specifically to conceal your identity.
So they didn’t try to make you walk or change your body language?
Good luck with that!
Did it feel good to step out of your beloved ballad zone with “Stitches” and “Teenage Dream?”
Oh, I like [“Teenage Dream”]! It’s been my secret fantasy to sing that song in any case. [Sings] ‘You think I’m pretty without any makeup on…’ Great song. ‘You think I’m funny but I get the punchline wrong.’ Every part of that song is a hook. That should be in “How to Write a Pop Song” school. I love that song.
I’ve said it to a few other contestants, but it must have felt good to outlast a member of Destiny’s Child and the Patti LaBelle, no?
Noooooo! Because I really liked Butterfly [Williams]. We had a thing going. We would always ham it up with each other. One day i came on set… because our dressing room’s were next to each other even though I didn’t know it was her because our identities were obviously concealed… but I used to have fun with Butterfly, we’d be in total character. Then one day I cam on set and she was gone. I went “where’s Butterfly?” And they said, “she didn’t make it.” And honestly, I was heartbroken.
You’ve won four Grammys, sold 20 million albums and released 10 albums. Did you just assume you would win the whole thing?
No, no. I just did it to have fun that was really what I wanted to do and experience what it would be like being dressed in drag. And now I know.
You were a natural. So you’re telling me you’ve never dressed in drag before?
Not like that [Laughs].
I think there’s another story here.
I think you’re onto something.
Do you have a go-to karaoke song?
No. I’m terrible at karaoke. I’m actually really bad at karaoke. Typically, actual singers who can sing are really bad at karaoke because that’s not the point of karaoke. The point of karaoke is to not be that good. It’s about people who can’t really sing having a lot of fun. Any efforts to turn in an artistic performance are generally quite futile.
What was the hardest thing about begin on the show?
Singing while wearing that costume, because it was really restricting. That affected my diaphragm, which you need to sing. I also couldn’t see. My line of sight was through the jaw, therefore through those tiny whisker hole in the Leopard’s mask. That was tough, but it was worth it because it was fun.
Season three of The Masked Singer returns on Feb. 2, right after the Super Bowl.