[This story contains the identity of the celebrity eliminated from Tuesday’s episode of Fox’s The Masked Singer.]
The penultimate episode of The Masked Singer saw not one but two major unmaskings — season-long standouts Rabbit, who turned out to be former NSync member Joey Fatone, and Lion, who turned out to be Empire guest star Rumer Willis.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Fatone after his elimination to find out how he chose his clues, what he thought about the Internet’s guesses, and just how method he planned to go with the rabbit-in-a-straitjacket costume.
You’ve been keeping this secret for months, but who did you end up telling?
It’s been pretty tight-lipped. I did tell my parents, and of course my manager knew, and a few close friends knew. But I’ve had so many people ask me and so many fans — and then it would have to be the craziest time because obviously I was doing a promotion for Common Knowledge for Game Show Network, when Masked Singer just came out, and after episode two or whatever. Of course, people were like, “You’re the Rabbit, you’re the Rabbit, you’re the Rabbit.” And I’m like, “No.”
I didn’t know what to say, but honestly I felt like a douche lying to everybody. But it’s one of those things where it’s in good fun. I’m not lying about something tragic or anything like that, or trying to cover up. It was one of the more fun experiences that I’ve ever had on a show, and the weirdest experience just because you were kind of isolated, in the whole realm of things.
What was that isolation like? Did you bring anyone with you to set?
I brought some friends of mine and my manager. They all had to wear the masks and they all had to wear these robes, almost like graduation gowns to cover the identity of everybody because they didn’t want to be associated. [My manager] also reps Boyz II Men, so people would also think maybe Boyz II Men is there. That kind of thing. So, they really kept it under wraps. It was only the choreographer, I believe, and the vocal coach, and then some of the audio guys are the only ones that knew who we were.
Did you see anyone you knew?
One of my best friends, Tom, his wife Shannon was one of the dancers in the show. And throughout, when I was walking around with the mask, I saw her. And I never got a chance to do any performances with her, except right before I got kicked off there was a rehearsal that we were doing for the finale, and we all had to rehearse it because we didn’t know who was getting kicked off [and if] I was staying, we already had the performance for the finale already set, choreographed, and done.
So when I came in for literally one of the last rehearsals — “Mustang Sally” is what I was going to do — and my friend Shannon was there. The crazy thing was that there was another woman [who] was actually one of my dancers from the Singing Bee show back in the day on NBC.
Let’s rewind a little bit. I was at dinner at my buddy Tom’s house and Shannon goes, “Oh my god, there’s this show that you would be amazing on.” And she’s telling me this and I’m like, “Oh, really? All right. What?” She goes, “It’s called The Masked Singer. There’s a Monster and a Bee, a Rabbit. They only work with a few people.” I’m like, “Oh, that’s crazy.”
My buddy Tom kept it tight-lipped too, and never told her. So when we were doing the rehearsal … I start to sing; she starts to look a little bit like cockeyed to me, like, “I think I know that person.” And all the sudden after I stopped, I just stood on her foot. She goes, “You son of a bitch.” She figured it out. It’s so hard for people that really know me. My mannerisms, the way I sing, how I cover stuff. People kinda knew it was me. People backstage, even the contestants. They all give that look like, “I think I know you,” but they don’t want to say anything and they can’t say anything.
Did you think you knew who anyone else was?
I knew nothing about the competition. I heard “Stay With Me” when Monster was singing. I think that was the only time I ever something backstage, right before you go on, the other performance is going. That is the only time you hear. I never wanted to see anything. I was in my trailer the whole time. Sometimes you can come out with a mask on. It’d be this green room area. I didn’t do it. I stayed in the trailer the whole time. I tried to make myself isolated.
So do you know who the Monster is now, or are you still waiting to figure it out?
I know who a lot of people are. I pretty much know who everybody is — I found out later on. Hilariously, I ran into Monster on a plane. … We kind of talked a little bit. He had so much fun doing it. I think we all did. It’s grueling, it’s hard, but it was fun.
You mentioned that your friends could recognize your voice, and plenty of NSync fans can recognize your voice too. But were you trying to disguise your voice, especially at the beginning?
I was putting twangs in there, I was doing a whole bunch of stuff. I think the cool thing about it is other the other celebrities definitely were going outside the box on their comfort zone as far as songs are concerned. And on top of that, they were very strict with that stuff. I was like, “Can I do ‘Mustang Sally?’” And in the beginning they would literally be like, “No.” I’m like, “Why not?” They go, “Well, if you Google your name, videos pop up of you singing it.”
That’s how extensive they actually went. They did not want you to ever have sang that song once in your life. So with the Aviici song that I sang, and “Living La Vida Loca,” those songs I’ve never sang before, really. Of course I did variations of “Mustang Sally” and “My Girl.” Toward the end, I was like, “Alright, people are going to know me regardless, so if I do a great performance, hopefully I’ll stay.” Apparently, “My Girl” wasn’t that great. I did it midtempo and I got kicked off.
You really committed to the straitjacket part of the Rabbit’s costume. What was behind that decision?
They kept telling me they wanted me to embrace the Rabbit. The first thing [got] was an email saying, “Hey Rabbit.” That’s all they refer to you as. Any email that went out, it was “Hey Rabbit, we need you for this.” Or “Hey Rabbit, you have rehearsals.” For me, I was like OK, they want this character. He’s wearing a straitjacket. Obviously, he’s gotta be off, maybe have a weird tic or something like that.
And then the tic, where I got it from believe it or not, is from America’s Got Talent. I don’t even know what season, but I remember there was a girl that was a magician and she had this tic where she was twitching her neck all the time like that. So I was like, that’s odd and weird all at the same time. I’m gonna steal that. So I used that. When I walked out I hopped out first and then I just started twitching. And then I said, “I have to commit to this. Now I have to stay doing this the whole time through.” And it became that thing. And if you look too, it looks like I’m kinda looking down. And it’s so hard in that costume where I’m literally just fiddling with the locks that are on my jacket. And mind you, the jacket is a whole other story. The costumes were amazing. the jacket itself, I was legitimately locked into it. Not even a joke. Not a BS thing. They had legitimate padlocks. They locked me in the jacket and I said, “I don’t want anybody to lose these keys.” So I actually had a spare key in my pocket. And I gave them a spare key as well. So they had keys and I had keys just in case I needed to get the hell out of the damn thing. They legitimately had to unlock the things.
Looking back at the whole experience would you do it again? Did you have fun? Were you surprised that it became such a sensation?
For me, it’s nice to know that the things that I do are things that people enjoy. Meaning the first time I ever got asked to do Dancing With the Stars, I was like you know what? I like dancing. I know my left and my right. Do people want to see me do dances? But I think it’s a fun show. Season four, I did it. Same thing with this show. [I watched clips from the Korean version], but then I saw the costumes that they were doing for the American version, and I was like, “This could be one of the fun ones. I’m sure the show will do well. I don’t know how big it’s going to get, but I know it’s going to do well.”
The minute I did the show — I’m not kidding — I was like, “I want to be a judge on the show. How can I be a judge?” We even talked about it and I wanted to do it so bad, but they were like, “There’s no way that we could do it.”
There was an A cast and a B cast first. It was six B contestants and then a guest. I wanted to be a guest judge on the other six contestants’ show to throw them completely off, but they didn’t do it. So I don’t know, maybe they might do it next season, who knows? But I loved it. I think it’s fun. And now I can say, “Can I at least be a judge on the next season at some point?”
I’m always the bridesmaid, never the bride. I’m always like either two, three, or top four or top five. I’m never the winner, but you know what? It doesn’t matter, because in that kind of show it’s a not win or lose, it’s a more of just appreciation and celebration of celebrities and their vocal abilities. And to have fun with it, people that may not be a strong singer get a chance to get up there and sing. I think that’s what’s cool about it, with the judges too, it’s lighthearted. It’s not like, “Oh my God you suck, you’ll never make a career out of it.” Because they have a career somewhere else, that’s not their forte.
Lion is definitely someone who can surprise a lot of people, because people couldn’t figure out who the hell she was. You know what’s so funny? I’ve known her for so long. I knew that she could sing but I did not know to the ability of that. We did the group song together, were singing with all these people, and we had no idea who the hell they were. Absolutely no idea. For me, I wasn’t nervous. For Dancing With the Stars I saw all the competition, and that makes you, I think, more nervous. When you don’t see the competition you don’t really know what the hell is going on. You just go, “Okay, I’m just going to do my show, my job, and do the best that I can, to my ability.” That’s what I did.
So do you know who wins?
I actually do.
Will people be excited by it?
I don’t know how the last episode goes! I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know the song, I don’t know what they’ve sang, I don’t know what they were up against. I’m going to be watching for the first time like you guys because obviously I got kicked off, so I didn’t stay around for that last episode. But I did hear, however, who won and I think people will be excited and interested to see. I think they’ll be happy about it.
What’s next for you?
I’m actually doing a podcast that’s launching literally right after [West Coast air] at 1 a.m. called Two Cups of Joe. We actually interview Donnie Wahlberg, because people thought he was the Rabbit, and then we also interviewed Robin Thicke as well. And then hopefully within the next weeks or so I’m going to have [the other finalists] on the show as well. It’s going to explain a lot more in detail how extensive things were.
What is the podcast about?
Two Cups of Joe? It’s about everything. It’s about parenting. Me and my manager, Joe of over 25 years now. It’s going to be about entertainment, about parenting, about sports. Everything. We’re getting [retired Major League Baseball superstars] Ken Griffey Jr. and Johnny Damon in the next couple weeks.
The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.