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Triple-threat: Three ’90s stars are revealed directly on ‘The Masked Singer’


The Pi-Rat, Hummingbird, and Panther on ‘The Masked Singer’ Season 8. (Photos: Fox)

When we last left The Masked Singer, on last week’s Season 8 premiere, the Hummingbird had just been eliminated — but we had to wait till this Wednesday to learn his identity. The judges’ guesses had been all over the place, ranging from athletes like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Deon Thomas to AOR/MOR rockers like Rob Thomas, Uncle Kracker, and Chad Kroeger, but the Hummingbird turned out to be boy-band warbler Chris Kirkpatrick — the second *NSYNC member to compete on the show, following Season 1’s Joey “The Rabbit” Fatone. The judges had been guessing that various cosplaying celebrities on the show could be Chris ever since, but this time, with Chris humming right in front of their eyes, they’d gotten it all wrong.

“We’ve guessed him for seven seasons, and nobody guessed tonight!” laughed Robin Thicke. “I can’t believe we missed it!” exclaimed Nicole Scherzinger. “You stumped ‘em, man!” host Nick Cannon chuckled.

Chris was actually one of three celebrities who were unmasked this Wednesday, because this season has a confusing new format with two or more contestants going home every week, while only one “reigning contestant” (at the moment, the seemingly undefeatable Harp) moves on to the next episode. I’m not a fan of this set-up. I’d certainly would have liked last week’s two entertaining eliminees, Eric “The Hedgehog” Idle and William “The Knight” Shatner, stick around a bit longer, and one of this week’s cast-offs, the Panther, surely would have survived a few weeks or even made it to the semifinals in more traditionally structured past seasons. But I suppose if Fox hopes to keep convincing various A- and B-listers (as opposed to C- and D-listers) to sign on for this silly show, it’s easier if those celebs’ time commitment only lasts for a one-and-done episode.

Before the Panther was sent prowling, however, the first unmasking of Wednesday night was the Pi-Rat. Yes, that’s right: the Pi-Rat, as in a pirate who happens to be a rat. (After eight seasons, this series really is running out of costume ideas!) Honestly, the bizarre costume was the only thing this swashbuckling rodent had going for him. His “Crocodile Rock” was pretty croaky, and guest judge Donny “The Peacock” Osmond (who opened Wednesday’s Sin City-themed episode with a vivacious performance of “The Greatest Show” and “Viva Las Vegas”) noted, “You’re an entertainer, but you are not a singer!” The judges guessed the Pi-Rat, who performed with a mini-mouse puppet, might be Triumph the Insult Comic Dog creator Robert Smigel or America’s Got Talent winner Terry Fator, or maybe Dana Carvey, Steve Carrell, or Carrot Top. But only Donny correctly guessed that it was comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham.

Then it was on to a crooning cosplayer who actually had a chance of going mask-to-mask with the Harp: the above-mentioned Panther. His cover of “Feeling Good” was sublime, and feline, and it had Nicole purring, “That was a really soulful, beautiful performance. … It almost gave me hints of colors of Nina Simone in there!” I have no idea why the judges guessed so many basketball players, simply because of the Panther’s height, when it was clear that this was a professional vocalist. Brian McKnight or Billy Porter, sure. But Andrew Drummond or Lamar Odom? Come on

!

Like I said a few paragraphs ago, the Panther had done more than enough to advance in any other season, but then he went into a literally face-off with the Harp on “Born to be Wild” — and it was clear that the Harp was born to do it. So, the Harp prevailed. “Girl, you are going to wear that crown straight through to the semifinals. It is going to be so hard to dethrone you,” Nicole told the gilded singer and “reigning queen” of episode two.

And so, in Wednesday’s final minutes, we found out the Panther was R&B superstar Montell Jordan — another promising Season 8 singer gone too soon.

That means that, once again, the Harp was the last mask standing, after a tour de force performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” that was everything. (“That’s an angel!” Donny shouted after she sang.) And so, this Vegas Week, I am doubling down on my previous guess: that the Harp is Glee star Amber Riley.

Besides the almost instantly recognizable power-vocals, all of the Harp’s clues lead to an Amber alert. She described herself as an “idol for anyone that felt like an outsider,” which was on-brand with the Glee ethos. She introduced herself with the line “And I am telling you,” and Amber was in Dreamgirls. We have seen a witch’s hat, and Amber played the Good Witch of the North in NBC’s The Wiz and performed in Wicked in Concert. We saw 3D glasses, a likely reference to the concert movie Glee in 3D. She mentioned winning awards for acting, singing, and comedy — the latter honor shared with her “besties” — and Amber has picked up the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical, the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Musical Performance, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (for Glee, of course). And the Harp mentioned that when she was a teenager, she auditioned for “the biggest show in the world” but “didn’t fit the mold and was turned down,” and Amber unsuccessfully tried out for American Idol at age 17.

But perhaps the most notable tip-off this week was when the Harp told Nicole, “I always love seeing our names together. We should make it happen again soon!” That’s when Nicole, who co-starred with Amber in the short film Straight Outta Oz with Season 6 runner-up Todrick “The Bull” Hall, figured out that the Harp is indeed Amber Riley.

Will Amber — um, I mean, the Harp — survive another episode, when two more mystery singers join the competition? Come back next Wednesday and find out.

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