Taco Gets Crushed on ‘The Masked Singer’: ‘I Went as Far as I Deserved to Go’

[Spoiler alert: This story contains the identity of the eliminated contestant on Wednesday night’s (March 4) The Masked Singer.]

What if we told you that the person sent home on The Masked Singer on Wednesday night is someone whose presence is so ubiquitous on network television that it would be near-impossible not to recognize him? OK, what if we added that just about everyone who works on Singer also used to work with the Taco on his hit prime-time show, and even he couldn’t believe they didn’t figure out his secret?

At least this time it wasn’t a music legend who was sent packing. After watching Lil Wayne, beloved comedian/game show host Drew Carey, Chaka Khan, skateboard legend Tony Hawk and Dionne Warwick go down in earlier weeks, this time Taco had to shake his salsa against Frog, Kitty and Banana with a warble through the Four Tops’ “Can’t Help Myself.” His final selection came after an interesting cover of Elvis’ “Bossa Nova Baby” and Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” which had the panel guessing he might not be a professional singer and tossing out guesses including Seth MacFarlane, Alec Baldwin and Ted Danson.

What they really should have done is pay more attention to the clues, which included a reference to a trolley — a hint that he had appeared on a Mr. Rogers tribute album. Billboard spoke to Dancing With the Stars host Tom Bergeron about his totally bizarre trip on the show, including the strange sensation of walking by his old dressing room on the way to the stage.

I gotta ask first off: Why the taco? Because when we spoke to Tony Hawk about why he picked Elephant, he said, “because it wasn’t the Taco.”

[Laughs] Because the only choices I had were Taco and Jellyfish and, trust me, the Jellyfish just looked really unappetizing. Not that you’d want to dive into that particular Taco, but it was the more entertaining of the two.

Were you concerned given your high profile on America’s Funniest Home Videos and DWTS that people would immediately know it was you?

I was concerned and I was cautioned because so many of the staff of Masked Singer used to work on Dancing with me. I have a lot of friends there, and that’s how I was invited to join the show, by one of my former executive producers there, who now executive-produces Masked Singer. But another member of the production crew cautioned me about things I do with the microphone, like when [co-host] Erin [Andrews] is talking on Dancing, I often let the mic drop to my right shoulder… so I was more conscious about the physical stuff than worried about my cadence speaking, because I knew they were going to distort my voice.

You’re known for a lot of things, but singing is not one of them.

Exactly, and that’s the reason [the show’s executive producer] reached out to me, because she’d seen a song I’d done for a Mr. Rogers tribute album. In fact, that’s what the trolley clue was referencing in an earlier episode. So she reached out and asked if I’d be interested and I thought it was just crazy enough that I’d regret passing up the opportunity.

So how did it feel to have the tables turned on you and be judged?

It was interesting. I had done one dance years ago on season 2 of Dancing With the Stars because I wanted to experience what the contestants went through. But this was totally new. I was kind of surprised — given that I know [judges] Robin [Thicke] and Jenny [McCarthy-Wahlberg] and Nicole [Scherzinger] — that they didn’t guess who it was. And surprisingly, a lot of the crew — including our director, lighting guy and sound guy now on Masked Singer — and they didn’t figure it out. They worked with me for years.

What do you think your secret weapon was that made it so hard to figure it out?

I have no idea. I was surprised. … I don’t think my singing voice sounds that different from my speaking voice, so I figured the moment they heard me sing they’d say, “Oh, that’s Tom!” Even given that they’d never heard me singing before. The better detectives in social media figured out the trolley connection and then started linking it to a video of me singing on the Mr. Rogers album, so they got to it quicker.

There are some super sleuths out there who really dig in. Were you surprised at how quickly and deeply they solved the clues?

Yeah, the one that surprised me most is one who works for iHeartRadio and who does a YouTube thing about Masked Singer. What he’ll do is pitch-correct when the contestants are talking with Nick. Of course, the show disguises your voice, but then he goes in and pitch-corrects it back to the actual voice and you could hear clear as a bell that it was me. That should serve as a warning to the production crew that they have to figure out a way to get around that.

You picked some standard-y songs during your run — Elvis, Sinatra, The Four Tops — was that a function of your personal tastes or were you trying to throw them off?

A combination of both, actually. The Sinatra tune was in my limited wheelhouse. “Bossa Nova Baby,” I was so worried about forgetting the lyrics — because we actually shot that show only two hours after shooting my Sinatra number — that I didn’t have time to bask in the great reaction to the Sinatra number because I was so worried about forgetting the lyrics that I basically, if you look at the video, forgot to move for the most part. I said I look like a Taco FrankenElvis.

Which is the opposite of what you think of with young Elvis and being in constant motion.

To give myself some out here, even if I had remembered the dance moves, you don’t see shakin’ hips in a taco shell that well.

Are any of those your go-to karaoke songs? Do you do karaoke?

No. The most I’ll do is the standard singing in the car or shower, but I think the Sinatra/Bublé/Harry Connick Jr. are all in the zone where I’m comfortable. But it was fun. It was designed to be a lark.

So let’s be honest: How good a singer do you think you are?

I went as far as I deserved to go. There are some amazingly talented singers there, none of whom I could identify because they keep us secret from each other as well. I had no illusions or delusions about going the distance. I think I went about as far as I deserved to.

But you outlasted a couple of heavy-hitters in Chaka Khan and Dionne Warwick — that’s something to crow about, right?

I would not have taken that bet if someone had proposed it to me when I started.

What’s the scariest thing about singing Elvis in a taco suit on TV?

I think you’ve just described it. [Laughs] I think that pretty much absolutely describes it. I’ll tell you one thing: That’s a tribute to how supportive the audience is in the studio, but how troubling it can be for the performer As I was getting ready to start my final performance of [The Four Tops], they were applauding so loud that even though I had an earpiece, I guessed when I had to to start because I couldn’t hear the music track. So I basically hopped in on a whim and it apparently worked out.

A number of stars have said the anonymity really convinced them to do the show. Was that your impulse too, given how easily recognized you are from your various gigs?

Not so much. The real thing that made me say yes was the reunion element. So many of the production team I’ve worked with for years on Dancing With the Stars… We shoot Dancing With the Stars on the exact same soundstage as they shoot Masked Singer so it was weird to be back “home,” but I couldn’t connect with anybody, I couldn’t interact with anybody. I would walk by what is usually my dressing room, which Jenny uses, and I kind of wondered if my ID badge would still work, but I kept moving.

Following the reveal, what was the most surprised reaction from some of your old work pals?

That they didn’t know! The director, the sound guy, the lighting guy are all veterans of Dancing, and we worked together for years and [the executive producer] was amazed that none of them were guessing it in the control room — so much so that she put a camera in there just to record their reaction for us when I took the mask off. But of course Nicole had won DWTS, Robin had performed as a guest artist several times, Jenny and I have known each other for many years. The only one I didn’t know was Ken [Jeong].

And he’s always wrong anyway.

And he’s always wrong! [Laughs] I don’t know if my mic was open as I was taking the mask off, but Ken was so certain it was Martin Short that as I was taking the mask off I said, “I feel like I’m letting Ken down.”

Were you a fan going in? Had you watched it at all?

I had just out of loyalty initially for my friends who worked on it, but it’s just really compelling. You get pulled into the guessing game really quickly and all praise goes to the costume department there. If they weren’t doing the amazing work they do, I don’t think the show would be nearly as successful.

The guesses were all over the map, from Seth MacFarlane, which kind of made sense, to Alec Baldwin and Ted Danson, which didn’t. Did their guesses surprise you? Were you flattered? Insulted?

One that was the funniest — [Bob] Saget and I have been friends for years — was when Robin guessed Bob Saget because of the VHS clue and I texted Bob the next day: “Do they think putting on a Taco outfit makes you shrink from 6’4″ to 5’9″?

Did anyone catch on during your first two appearances?

Yes. A buddy of mine who does a wonderful morning show in New Hampshire texted me that night, “Oh my God, dude, you’re crushing it” with a wink emoji. I said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Who do you think is going to rub it in the most now that you’ve been eliminated?

That’s a really good question. I gotta tell you I don’t know if it got into the final edit of tonight’s show, but when I was unmasked, I think Jenny said, “Oh, we wish you’d stayed longer,” and I said, “No, I’m good.” I’m very comfortable with three and out. A producer friend of mine guessed right away as well. I was getting texts from longtime friends and family members that I just deflected.

So what’s harder: Dancing With the Stars or singing and dancing in a Taco suit?

Oh my God, singing in a Taco suit! DWTS…  hosting live television for me I feel like I’m in bedroom slippers. This was a return to a level of anxiety that I have not felt in decades. And that was part of the reason I did it. I was talking to my wife and I said, “I think I need to feel nervous.”


Journey Fire Steven Smith & Ross Valory Over Alleged ‘Coup,’ File $10M Lawsuit

The members of Journey are going their separate ways in dramatic fashion.

Guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain have filed suit against drummer Steven Smith and bassist Ross Valory, alleging the two attempted a “coup” in order to gain control of the “Journey” trademark. According to the complaint, which was filed in California Superior Court on Tuesday, Schon and Cain are seeking damages in excess of $10 million. They have also expelled Smith and Valory from the band.

The suit, which was filed by law firm Miller Barondess, lays out what the plaintiffs allege was an underhanded effort by their former bandmates to steal away the “Journey” name, to which Schon and Cain claim they own the exclusive rights per a 1998 agreement signed with former frontman Steve Perry when he left the group. That agreement followed a previous one entered into by Schon, Cain and Perry in 1985 via the corporate entity Nightmare Productions providing the trio with an “exclusive, irrevocable license” over the Journey trademark.

The alleged plot by Valory and Smith to assume control of the trademark culminated on Feb. 13, 2020, when Schon and Cain allege the two men held “improper” shareholder and board of directors meetings of Nightmare Productions under the “incorrect” assumption that the company held the rights to the Journey name. They accuse Smith, Valory and unnamed “allies” of voting in those meetings to give Smith and Valory control of the board, with Smith usurping Cain as board president and Valory replacing Schon as secretary.

“With control of Nightmare Productions, per the Complaint, Smith and Valory incorrectly believe they can seize control of the Journey name and force Schon, Cain and Nightmare Productions to provide them with wind-fall payments after their retirement; they want to be paid a share of Journey touring revenue in perpetuity under the guise of a licensing fee while they perform absolutely no work for the band,” said Miller Barondess in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

Representatives for Valory and Smith did not respond to Billboard’s requests for comment by press time.

Though both Smith and Valory have been members of Journey on and off since the band formed in 1973, the complaint diminishes their contributions to the group, stating that the two “have very few song credits on Journey’s albums.” Schon is the only founding member of Journey that remains in the band. Cain joined in 1980, departed in 1987 and returned in 1995 and has played with them ever since. The only other remaining member of Journey is current frontman Arnel Pineda, who joined the group in 2007.

In addition to compensatory and punitive damages (plus interest), Schon and Cain are seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against Valory and Smith to prevent their alleged scheme; a declaration that Schon and Cain own the exclusive rights to the Journey trademark via their entity Elmo Partners and are expressly authorized to perform as Journey, with or without any of the other band members; a declaration that all actions taken during the Feb. 13 board and shareholder meetings are invalid; and attorneys’ fees and other costs related to the suit.


What’s Your Favorite Camila Cabello Single? Vote!

It’s time to toast some “Sangria Wine” for the newly 23-year-old Camila Cabello, and Billboard wants to know: Which of her singles is an “Easy” pick for your favorite?

Cabello has released 16 singles as a lead artist in her career, including the sweet Pharrell-assisted “Sangria Wine,” two Shawn Mendes duets (“I Know What You Did Last Summer” from 2015 and last summer’s smash No. 1 hit “Señorita”) and one Spanish track with 17-time Latin Grammy-winning musician Alejandro Sanz titled “Mi Persona Favorita” from 2018.

Four of her singles have gone on to become top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits, with “Havana,” featuring Young Thug, and “Señorita” taking the cake at No. 1, “Bad Things” with Machine Gun Kelly peaking at No. 4 in 2017, and her 2018 single “Never Be the Same” reaching No. 6 on the chart.

So which of Cabello’s singles is your favorite? Vote below


What’s Your Favorite Lady Gaga Album? Vote!

“Earth is canceled. I live on Chromatica,” Lady Gaga told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe in an interview last week teasing the title of her out-of-this-world sixth studio album. Chromatica will still arrive on terrestrial platforms April 10 via Interscope Records for all of the Little Monsters to enjoy, but which Lady Gaga album do you enjoy the most?

She’s notched four No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 (excluding the A Star is Born film soundtrack) — Born This Way in 2011, Artpop in 2013, Cheek to Cheek with Tony Bennett in 2014 and Joanne in 2016, which was her last studio album.

Mother Monster even gifted her vocals on a Christmas album back in 2011, as A Very Gaga Holiday took a jazzy, sultry spin on her own classics — “Yoü and I” and “The Edge of Glory” — as well as Nat King Cole’s “Orange Colored Sky.”

So which Lady Gaga compilation can’t you get enough of? Vote below!


Here’s How Music Merch Companies Are Navigating Coronavirus

The forecast for the coronavirus’ spread seems to change by the hour, affecting markets, manufacturing and public gatherings across the world. And for music merchandise — a business that has to balance long lead times for front-end production with fast turn-arounds for order fulfillment on the back end — that has thrown the entire industry into uncertainty as the COVID-19 disease grows.

“We have eight tours starting in Europe next week and everything seems to be changing day by day,” says Alex Stultz, CEO of Virginia-based merch company Red Star, which handles Dave Matthews Band and others. “What’s happening with shows in Switzerland or Northern Italy? We just don’t know. So we’re waiting and planning and hoping for the best.”

Along with putting the future of concerts, festivals and other large public gatherings around the world in doubt, the COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted supply chains in China, where the coronavirus first emerged. But even though Asia is one of the world’s major manufacturers for almost everything, including music merchandise, this has yet to become a major problem.

“Most of our T-shirts do come from China,” says Del Wood, CEO of the merchandise-fulfillment firm Music Today. “But a lot of the processing is elsewhere, including in the U.S., so that hasn’t been affected yet. We’re concerned, we have plans where we can, but what can we do?”

It helps that music merchandise manufacturing is not completely confined to Asia. Mat Vlasic, CEO of Universal Music Group-owned Bravado, says his firm has its manufacturing spread out around the world with this very scenario in mind.

“We have diverse geographical relationships for all our operations, so we’re generally protected,” Vlasic says. “Whether it’s a natural disaster or something like what’s happening now, we’re not beholden to any one region or set of manufacturers.”

Perryscope, which has a client list that includes AC/DC and Pink Floyd, has a similar setup. Its music-merchandise apparel is made all over the world and comes from Central America, Turkey, Pakistan and India, as well as China.

“Most of what we get from China is accessories like keychains,” says Norman Perry, CEO of Perryscope. “But supply chains are behind schedule. We’re having discussions with many licensees about Plan Bs right now.”

That’s not uncommon, because for many music-merchandise firms, China is less of a source for apparel than accessories. North Carolina-based Port Merchandise (Jason Isbell, Mavis Staples) is experiencing delays for products like iron-on patches for an upcoming Guided by Voices tour.

“We’ve also had some koozies and baseball caps held up,” says Chip Taylor, owner of Port Merchandise. “Mostly it’s little knick-knacks like patches and buttons. But the good thing is it’s not make-or-break for us. Shirts are our main thing and we get those made domestically.”

As for tour-specific merchandise, artists and their teams will look for other ways to sell it online and in retail stores. Even if a given tour is canceled, the majority of stock will probably wind up shifted to retail. “Then we’re looking for storage,” says Perryscope’s Perry.

He continues, “But there’s not anybody on the planet who won’t feel some effect from this, whether it’s a closed building or ushers, caterers, security companies — or T-shirt vendors. I’m working with [K-pop band] ATEEZ and their tour is supposed to open in Madrid and Paris in May. There are questions about if it will happen, and if we’ll have the goods. We’ll see.”


Jimmie Allen Celebrates ‘Make Me Want To’ Topping Country Airplay Chart: ‘Never Give Up on Your Dreams’

Jimmie Allen’s “Make Me Want To” ascends 3-1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart (dated March 7), gaining by 12% to 33.2 million audience impressions in the week ending March 1, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data.

The song reaches the Country Airplay summit in its 58th week on the survey, completing the longest journey to No. 1 in the history of the chart, which launched in January 1990. It passes Chris Young’s “Voices,” which took 51 weeks (over two release cycles) to lead at last in February 2011.

“I’m super-thankful to radio, my management team, band, label and booking agency for their hard work and never giving up on this song,” Allen told Billboard on March 2. “And to my co-writers, Paul Sikes and Jennifer Denmark: You are special talents with great hearts.”

As for the timing of the song’s coronation, Allen shares that his daughter Naomi was born on Sunday. “The baby and momma are doing great,” he beams. “March 1 will forever be my favorite day. Never give up on your dreams or yourself. Love always wins.”

Along with its record 58-week rise to No. 1 on Country Airplay, “Make” sets a new record for the most total weeks on the tally for a song. It bests Rodney Atkins’ “Caught Up in the Country,” (featuring The Fisk Jubilee Singers), which logged 57 weeks on the list, peaking at No. 21 in April 2019. Next up, all at 56 total weeks: Dylan Scott’s “Hooked” (No. 2, 2018) and Lee Brice’s “Love Me Like Crazy” (No. 3, 2010). (Notably, the Atkins, Scott and Brice singles were all released on Curb Records.)

“Make” is Allen’s sophomore single and second straight Country Airplay leader. “Best Shot” scaled the summit on Nov. 24, 2018, in its 40th week, and led for three frames.Allen’s next single is “This Is Us,” a duet with Noah Cyrus.

NEW TOP 10s Jason Aldean’s “We Back” jumps 14-8 on the airplay-, streaming- and sales-powered Hot Country Songs chart, with 23.3 million in airplay audience and 5.3 million U.S. streams.

The track marks Aldean’s 32nd Hot Country Songs top 10, a sum that includes nine No. 1s. He last reached the tier with the No. 4-peaking “Rearview Town” in August 2019. The song topped Country Airplay, becoming Aldean’s 21st No. 1.

Also on Hot Country Songs, Luke Bryan’s “What She Wants Tonight” pushes 11-9, awarding him his 29th top 10, a total that includes 11 No. 1s. The song holds at No. 7 on Country Airplay, up 4% to 24.3 million in radio reach. It also attracted 4.8 million clicks in the tracking week. Predecessor single “Knockin’ Boots” hit No. 2 on Hot Country Songs and led Country Airplay for two weeks, marking Bryan’s 21st leader.

THE ‘NAME’ GAME Keith Urban’s new single, “God Whispered Your Name,” soars onto Country Airplay at No. 28 with 4.6 million impressions.The song, penned by Christian music artist Chris August with Micah Carter, Shy Carter and James Slater, was released to country radio on Feb. 27 and received hourly plays on participating iHeartMedia stations the following day.Urban adds his 46th Country Airplay entry, a history that includes 21 No. 1s among 40 top 10s.

As announced Feb. 27, Urban will host the Academy of Country Music Awards on April 5 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

‘My Dad Wrote a Porno’ Podcast Hosts Talk Bringing Pick-Your-Own-Adventure Tour to the US

Thursday evening at the Paramount Theatre in Denver, British podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno will return to North America for a 15-city tour that brings the hilarious tales of fictional heroine Belinda Blumenthal to international fans in a completely new way. Much like the weekly podcast that features hosts Jamie Morton, James Cooper and Alice Levine reading excerpts of Morton’s father’s pornographic literature, the new live tour will see the trio leading the audience through a pick-your-own-adventure book written by Rocky Flintstone (Morton’s father’s pen name).

A lot of shows do live versions of their podcast on tour and we want to make it more of a show. So we found out he had done this pick-your-porno and we thought that would be a good format for our next show,” says Cooper. The group has already taken the pick-your-porno show to Australia including the iconic Sydney Opera House. 

It is all about Belinda’s 30th birthday this time. It’s kind of a big party atmosphere,” adds Morton. “It really feels like a birthday celebration when we do the shows. When we did it in Australia, people came dressed up, they made a big effort.”

The North American dates will hit a string of notable venues including The Met Philly and Radio City Music Hall in New York and welcome audience participation as they weave their way through a variety of story options. The pick-your-own-adventure story will not be recorded for the podcast that concluded its fifth season in December; the format will exclusively be for live audiences with no two-nights resulting in the exact same story.

“With so much fan interaction, you get something so different from every audience,” Levine tells Billboard. “There are moments that just jump out from the crowd and those are the highlights of the show. It being organic means that you can just roll with it and we’ve always got the backbone of Rocky’s, dare I say, literature. At the end of the day, everyone comes to hear Rocky’s work and any silliness on top is sort of the cherry on the cake.”

In addition to picking where the story goes, the hosts play drinking games with the audience to elevate the party atmosphere of the live event and harken back to the after-work pubs where the idea for the podcast was created. Fans are encouraged to drink when they hear some of Rocky Flintsone’s most commonly used phrases.

When we first did it, we had several rules and then we realized everyone was pretty pissed by the end of it, so maybe we should reign it in,” says Levine. “We’ve subbed it down to our main rule which is ‘when Belinda blinks, everybody drinks,’ which still seems to get people pretty merry. You never know in a chapter if she is going to blink five or 150 times.”

Cooper jokes that their shows always start late because the bars are so busy and Morton adds a crowning achievement was the Royal Albert Hall in London running out of wine during one of their live events.

The latest trek will see the trio perform throughout the region at The Chicago Theatre, Austin City Limits Live, The Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, The Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles and more, but the hosts never feel the need to alter the content of their show for international audiences. With nearly all North American dates sold out, My Dad Wrote a Porno has resonated with wide audiences and even been turned into a special for HBO in 2019.

It is one of the most universal themes there is, embarrassing dads,” says Levine. “I feel like everybody’s dad is really cringy. Everybody sits around and is a bit eye-rolly about their parents. The three of us, sat around faffing is what everybody does every Friday night at the pub, so people can place themselves at that table.”

People are really invested in the world he has created. People compare him to J.K Rowling and we tell them to stop doing that,” says Morton. “People are so excited about the prospect of being in this environment with all of us together.”

The podcast, which launched in October of 2015, has been downloaded more than 250 million times over the course of five seasons and a handful of “footnote” episodes that have featured additional commentary on the erotic novels from Elijah Wood, Rachel Bloom, Michael Sheen, Daisy Ridley, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dan Levy, Emma Thompson and more.

I think the audience has enjoyed being in on what’s essentially been a massive prank as we’ve elevated Rocky Flintstone to one of the greatest erotic writers in the world. He’s now a published author and people listen to his work and talk about it,” says Cooper. 

We definitely worry about getting visas revoked once they realize why we are visiting and what we are bringing,” says Levine. 

The pick-your-porno tour will make its way through North American throughout March and April, closing out at Sony Centre in Toronto on April 11. The podcast will resume live dates in May in the U.K. and Europe launching with a 5-night residency at the London Palladium.