[Spoiler alert: This story contains the identity of the eliminated contestant on Wednesday night’s (March 25) The Masked Singer.]
The Masked Singer did it again this week, serving up exactly the kind of guilty-pleasure entertainment we need as the world continues its COVID-19 lockdown. And for once, at least half the panel was dead-on when it came to their guesses about who was behind some very high-energy performances of Salt N Pepa’s “Push It,” P!nk’s “So What” and “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire.
Was the latter a bit of kissing up considering it featured judge Nicole Scherzinger’s group Pussycat Dolls? Sure. But considering the child star behind the mega-raptor knows a thing or two about making good TV, dancing and putting on a dazzling show, it’s no surprise she did a little extra to work the judges like a boss.
Plus, she had to hoof extra hard to grab the spotlight after the last two weeks’ eliminations, which featured Swan Bella Thorne and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin rapping in a Bear suit. Scherzinger and Jenny McCarthy Wahlberg were both pretty on point with their guesses, while guest judge Will Arnett swung wildly from The Office star Ellie Kemper to gymnast Gabby Douglas.
And, in a shocking turns of events, never-right Ken Jeong was actually in the ballpark when he guessed reality TV star Honey Boo Boo. But being close doesn’t really count for anything, since the real face behind the not-so-terrifying Rex mask was 16-year-old actress/singer/YouTube star and hair-bow entrepreneur JoJo Siwa. The former Dance Moms star and “Boomerang” singer spoke to Billboard before her elimination, breaking down the surprisingly complicated physics behind doing high kicks in an 18-layer costume with a tail that has a mind of its own.
You’ve released a couple of singles and toured all over the world. How did performing on Masked Singer compare to those accomplishments?
It was so crazy because my thing is I perform… that’s what I do for a living! I am onstage, I go on world tours, I release music. That’s what I do. But this was doing that and nobody knew that it was me. So actually I’m not gonna lie, it was quite difficult. I was talking to one of my best friends about it who knew that I was on the show and I would have her watch me rehearse and she was like, “It’s so weird watching you do it with the mask on and with the mask off because your face is like what makes your performance.” So I had to figure out how to make my performance without… me. It’s crazy.
You’re right, because so much of your style and attitude is your face and your smile, and of course your hair bows. So how did you make that come through without all the stuff people are used to?
I had to make sure that my performance was high-energy, and I used my dancing to my advantage. I actually had a troubled time with rehearsals because we had dance rehearsals to learn the choreography but I actually flew in from Australia and I landed at like 9 a.m. and I was on set immediately, I didn’t even go home. I went straight to set. So I missed my rehearsals and I practiced 24/7 at home, I have so many videos of me just practicing at home. But I had to make sure all my energy was correct in my body. I had to really make sure I had that T-Rex energy.
You’ve done some reality TV in the past, of course. How did this show compare when it wasn’t so much about you, but about what you’re doing anonymously?
It’s so weird because I get really close and attached to people. Like I love whenever I do a new project like the crew I’m working with or the set people that I’m working with. I love all my cast, I love my crew, everything. But for this, nobody could know who I was, so it was like… the crew that knew who I was I got really, really, really close to and we created some really special friendships. But like the other people in the other masks, we have no idea who we are. So I don’t know who Astronaut is, but that person and I really hang out. We would hang out backstage and give each other high fives and just look at each other but we don’t know who each other is. It’s crazy!
I bet it is weird to create a relationship with someone who is totally anonymous…
You literally don’t know who it is, but at the same time I’m a kid, so I love celebrities, I love people and I think that’s so cool, so I’m like, “Wait a minute, this could be somebody that I really love and look up to.”
Who do you think Astronaut is?
Listen, if I knew… it’s crazy we don’t know anything. And you’re not allowed to see anyone else perform, so I also haven’t seen anyone else’s clue packages besides what I’ve been watching on TV. But on set you’re not allowed to hear anything because they don’t want anyone to know.
Why the T-Rex? What appealed to you about that costume and what was the hardest part of performing in it?
I didn’t know how it was gonna work. I didn’t know if I was going to have to tell them what I wanted to be or if they were going to tell me and I told my mom, “My ideal thing that I would want to be is a dinosaur.” And she was like, “Really?” And I said, “Yeah. Because I don’t want to be something where it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s JoJo Siwa.'” Where it’s something bright and colorful. I wanted to be something dark, like a dinosaur. And they presented me with three different options and one of the things was a T-Rex and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s exactly what I wanted!”
The hardest thing about performing in it… there were three things that were really hard. Number one is you cannot breathe. It is SO hard to breathe in that mask! If you were just standing there and singing it would be totally fine. But because I move around so much and use so much energy in my performances it made it really, really difficult. And my costume was heavy. I counted, I had 18 layers of clothing on. It’s intense. You can’t really see either. You have to look down to see, which was really odd. But one thing for me that was specifically hard is that one of the dancers on The Masked Singer is one of my actual backup dancers in real life. So I could see her but she couldn’t see me. So I was like, “Oh my God I just want to give you a big hug!” I can’t wait to text her tonight and be like, “It was me!”
You really don’t think she recognized you?
I don’t know because we performed together for a year straight. So I feel like she had to have some guesses but you never really know for sure.
Jenny and Nicole actually guessed it was you. Were you surprised they were able to figure it out?
They did! I love a surprise, because after hearing my clue packages obviously I think it’s me because it was me. But they guessed it I guess. That’s crazy!
But Will Arnett, on the other hand, was way off with his guesses of Zoe Kravitz and Gabby Douglas. What was that Lego clue you gave him and how did he miss it so badly?
Honestly, the Lego clue was really confusing and so minor. He’s obviously Lego Batman and I was at the Lego Batman movie premiere.
Did you meet him there?
What was the North West clue that made them think it was Maddie Ziegler?
I don’t know what made them think it was Maddie Ziegler. Maddie is obviously a great friend of mine, we worked together for three years [on Dance Moms]. I love, love her so much I’ve known her for… oh wow, I’m 16, I’ve known her for six years! That’s crazy. But the North West clue is I have a little friendship with Kim and Kanye and of course little Northy, who is a JoJo fan. I’ve babysat her and lots of fun little stuff. That’s obviously where the North West clue came from, but I don’t know where they would have gotten Maddie from that. I think when you think dancer, you go straight to Maddie for Sia in all those music videos, and she was a favorite on Dance Moms.
You said you stayed up past midnight to rehearse, so is it safe to assume that’s the only time you had in your busy schedule?
Yeah, it’s insane. During The Masked Singer, I was also having rehearsals for my tour, so I would be at Masked all day and tour stuff all night or vice versa. So literally the only time I had to make sure my Masked performances were perfect was from 10 to midnight.
“So What” by P!nk is a tough one to sing, but you really worked hard to belt it out. Was that one hard to do while doing all those high kicks?
I love that song and I love P!nk. It was tough, but I’m used to it. So I have that giant tail and how the tail is attached was around my stomach on a belt-type situation. For the tail to be steady it had to be super tight, so I had a really hard time moving around and a really hard time breathing. They were like, “You don’t have to move around so much.” So in soundcheck I would not move around so much, but then when I hit the stage they were like, “What did you just do?” I’m sorry, I have to go full-out. I have performer instincts. When I hear my song and when the lights are down… I know it sounds cheesy, but when it’s lights, audience, go, once the music comes on I have an alter ego named Jeddie, which is a mix of JoJo and Freddie Mercury, because Freddie Mercury is my favorite, my king of life. I am Jeddie, she just comes out and takes over and lives her best life.
You were talking about the tail — you really shook it a lot for that one. Did it throw you off at all?
I made sure that I did all my rehearsals on set in the tail, so that way I got used to it. You’ll see in “Jai Ho,” in “Jai ho.. oh, oh oh [sings],” I do this move and it was so hard to do in the tail, but I kind of realized that I’m the body and the tail is the accessory and it has to listen to me. At first I was letting the tail control me but then I was like, “No, I have to control the tail.” I figured out that when I move up and down, the tail actually moves sideways, and when I move sideways, the tail moves up and down. Once I figured that out I was like, “Oh, that’s easy!”
Did anyone figure out it was you? I saw people were definitely speculating it was you online.
Oh, so many people figured it out! And the hard thing is I have to be quiet about it. Obviously I want to be quiet about it because I don’t want to ruin the fun. All my friends too… you can tell the people that you need to tell, your certain close people. But all the people that you need to tell have to sign an NDA. So for me the only people that knew were my family and my best friend, and I would talk to her about it 24/7 and I was like, “You just have to deal with me talking about it because I can’t talk to anyone else about it.” It would be so hard because my other close friends would text me and be like, “C’mon T-Rex!” And you just don’t respond because you can’t say yes but you also don’t want to lie to them so you can’t say no.
Weren’t you born like 20 years after “Push It” was released? Were you familiar with the song before your performance?
Yes! I love it. Oh my gosh, I love it so much! I did a solo to a Salt N Pepa song when I was little and I just love them. That style of music… “Push It” was actually my favorite number that I did. That style is so easy to perform full out like I like to perform. “So What” I had to really concentrate on singing, “Jai Ho” I really had to concentrate on the singing, but “Push It”… the singing coach on the show, I was like, “Listen, girl. ‘Push It’ I got.” Once I know these lyrics it’s so simple because it’s just speaking essentially.
You sang “Jai Ho (You re My Destiny)” from Slumdog Millionaire, which features Nicole and the Pussycat Dolls. Were you kissing up to Nicole a bit?
I honestly just like the song. It took me a second to even put it together that it was Nicole’s song. I love “Jai Ho” — who doesn’t?