And the winner of 'The Masked Singer' Season 4 is…

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Season 4 was the vocally strongest and most competitive Masked Singer season ever, so much so that even powerhouses Tori Kelly and Taylor Dayne didn’t make it to this week’s finale. But the top three that did face off in the final show this Wednesday made for the “best finale ever,” according to judge Ken Jeong — with the rightful champion, the golden-throated Sun, certainly taking her place in Masked Singer history as the best vocalist to ever take home the Golden Mask trophy.

So, this is hardly a spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet watched the finale, as everyone — the judges, viewers, bloggers, myself, my cat — figured out that the Sun was LeAnn Rimes pretty much from episode one. Besides the many obvious clues about child stardom, country living, tabloid scandals, new age practices, and the color “blue,” the solar superstar’s voice was instantly identifiable. (On Season 4’s premiere, the Sun covered “Cuz I Love You,” which LeAnn’s fans were quick to point out sounded exactly like a recently resurfaced YouTube video of LeAnn singing that Lizzo hit on her tour bus.)

But it was in later episodes, when the Sun dug deep into her years of pain and healing to belt passionate, vulnerable ballads, that she became the clear frontrunner of Season 4. Her haunting, almost entirely a cappella Billie Eilish cover on the Super Six semifinals was in fact the most stunning performance in Masked Singer history, leaving all of the judges in tears and for a few minutes transforming this bonkers, guilty-pleasure novelty show into something serious and so much grander. This week, LeAnn won with an equally sublime cover of Brandi Carlile’s “The Story,” which she dedicated to her “sol-mate,” a.k.a. husband Eddie Cibrian, a.k.a. “the person who has loved me through some of my toughest times. He’s always encouraged me to fly, and our bond is a testament that love really does conquer all.”

“When you sing, you bring a sense of foundation and security and grace with each and every performance. You have ignited a fire in all of us, so thank you,” judge Nicole Scherzinger told LeAnn Wednesday, while Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg gushed, “Thank you for the gift of your voice!” And Ken said, “The connection you have, I don’t think I have ever had with any other contestant.”

I know The Masked Singer is just a kooky, escapist reality show, but I do hope that LeAnn’s star turn as the shining Sun will remind people just what a spectacular singer she is. “Honestly, the best part of this has been people being able to feel the essence of me, without preconceived ideas of who or what I am,” confessed a teary Rimes, whose professional/personal life has taken many twists and turns and hit many highs and lows since she became the youngest Grammy-winner ever, at age 14, in 1997. “I feel like for the first time, people are actually hearing me and feeling me… and that makes me really happy!”

OK, if you’re not into spoiler alerts, you might want to stop reading right now. While Wednesday’s third-place reveal, the Crocodile, wasn’t a huge surprise — it was the Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter, who ended his Masked Singer run on a literal high note by taking on the almighty Steve Perry and Journey’s “Open Arms” — the Mushroom, who placed second, was indeed a shocker. All season long, he’d showcased a stratospheric falsetto, flamboyant showmanship, and a total commitment to character that had me guessing it was either Pharrell Williams, D’Angelo, Andre 3000, or Billy Porter beneath that fungal frock. (Although the Mushroom did note that his costume was not a skirt per se, but merely a cylindrical “stem.”) The judges had previously pegged the Mushroom as either Maxwell, Ne-Yo, Frank Ocean, Justin Timberlake, the Weeknd, or Donald Glover.

But at the last minute, after hearing the Mushroom warble Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” this week, Nicole and fellow judge Robin Thicke switched their guesses to Aloe Blacc — and it turned out they were right. Much like usually stoic Seal as the scenery-chewing Leopard in Season 2, this was a whole new Aloe, very different from his more serious persona of folk/alt-rock/soul hits like “Wake Me Up,” “I Need a Dollar,” and “The Man.” But the singer-songwriter explained that he did this show for his 7-year-daughter, Mandela (whose favorite song is “I Wish”), and was inspired by her girly energy and love of playing dress-up. Aloe’s daughter didn’t even know he was competing this season, and I bet she was as surprised as everyone else when that mushroom-cap headpiece finally came off.

By the way, there was another winner this Wednesday, besides LeAnn Rimes: judge Jenny, who scored the first-ever Golden Ear trophy for the most correct guesses throughout the season. Of course, the trophy did not go to Ken “I Know Exactly Who This Is” Jeong. Ken will return to Fox on Dec. 27 as a judge on the sure-to-be-amazing spinoff series The Masked Dancer — alongside veteran Fox judge Paula Abdul, Ashley Tisdale, and Brian Austin Green, a.k.a. the Giraffe — but I doubt Ken’s guessing track record will improve, as it seems that show will be even tougher to suss out. But I’m certainly willing to give it a go, so I’ll be watching, recapping, and scrutinizing every mystery contestant’s gait and fancy footwork. See you then!

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