Roar writer Matthew Seaman discusses ITV1’s The Masked Singer competition.

Where would you go to watch a face-off between a harlequin and a sausage? No, not a Venetian meat market… ITV 1 on a Saturday night, of course!

Over 5 million viewers have been tuning in each week to watch ITV’s new Saturday night staple: The Masked Singer. Adapted from a South Korean concept, King of Mask Singer, which aired on MBC in 2015, twelve celebrities take to the stage to sing their hearts out – with a twist. Each famous face is concealed by a meticulously constructed costume. Each costume is embedded with hidden clues, keeping everything masked except for their voices.

Described as a ‘military operation,’ the show is notorious for its secrecy, both on and off stage. Backstage, contestants wear hoodies labeled ‘don’t speak to me’ and face masks. Their identities must remain strictly anonymous, even to those working on the show. Additionally, the show’s vocal coaches told ITV Hub’s Unmasked that they train the performers to ‘remove some of the intricacies’ of their voices. Martine McCutcheon, who was unmasked as the ‘Swan’, said that “It was hard to speak in the mask… let alone sing in it”.

But who are the celebrities behind the masks?

The previous (and first) series saw the likes of CeeLo Green, Katherine Jenkins, Jason Manford and Denise van Outen don their disguises, with Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts ultimately taking the crown.

Each contestant’s performance, preceded by a VT of riddles and hints, triggers a surge of speculation on social media. This year, viewers were quick to declare ‘Harlequin’ as singer-songwriter Gabrielle and ‘Robin’ as JLS’ Aston Merrygold. There is also significant support for ‘Blob’ being Comic Relief’s Lenny Henry. As of Saturday 23rd January, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Mel B (Spice Girls), Martine McCutcheon, Glenn Hoddle and John Thomson have all been revealed. Each week, a new contestant is eliminated from the competition, as decided by the judges and studio audience.

The ‘Sausage’ is causing a particular divide. Many viewers are determined that it is TV’s all-rounder Sheridan Smith, whilst others indicate that it may be Loose Women’s Stacey Solomon. Ultimately, the clues seem to be pointing towards the soulful songstress Joss Stone. After their first appearance, ‘Sausage’ told the judges that their ‘performance is something of a balancing act.’ Stone herself suffers from balance issues, so regularly performs with bare feet. Similarly, she is one of the first acts to ever balance her carbon emissions on tour. ‘Sausage’ also hinted that they ‘owe [their] career to a horse.’ When appearing as a guest on Loose Women, Stone told the panelists that she became a singer to afford to pay for their family horse. Finally, a clue in this week’s episode informed us that ‘Sausage’ has been ‘told [she] looks like a horse’. Stone has played Anne of Cleves in The Tudors, where Henry VIII likened her to a horse.

No matter how much we speculate, we will have to wait until ‘Sausage’ is unmasked to find out the true owner of that rich, raspy voice. You can see me speculate about this as a guest on Good Morning Britain’s online series: Who’s Behind The Mask?

Is it any good, though?

What I once considered to be the lowest form of entertainment has somehow grabbed my attention this time around. A programme that relies on teasing its audience, dropping hints, and keeping us clinging on initially seemed to me like any other anticlimactic reality show. Yet, this time, it appears to be everything we need as a culture-starved audience in lockdown. Whilst I am under no illusion of it being high-art, I feel as though a bit of lightheartedness is exactly what we have all been craving in a time of such seriousness.

In a pandemic era, you would think we’d all be sick of masks, but ITV has proven quite the opposite. I didn’t expect myself to be saying: I’m on ‘team Sausage’, but it seems that is where we are at.

The Masked Singer is a celebration of all things playful and silly, and I look forward to finding out which celebrities are behind the remaining masks in the coming weeks.

Podcast Editor and Culture Writer for Roar News.

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