Bop till you drop: Eliminated 'Masked Singer' Russian Dolls are '90s pop idols

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The Russian Dolls made Masked Singer history this season as the first band to ever compete on the show. The judging panel played dumb and guessed that it might be Sugarland, Boyz II Men, Barenaked Ladies, Savage Garden, or even Devo inside those wide-eyed wooden vessels… but surely Golden Ear-winning judge Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg recognized those beautiful brotherly harmonies from when the doll-faced former teen idols played unplugged on her MTV variety show in 1997.

Those instantly identifiable voices hadn’t gone through any Peter Brady-style transformation in the years since, and the trio’s diehard fans — or “Fansons,” as they are fondly known — recognized them straight away, when producers made the massive mistake of leaking one of the Russian Dolls’ performances early March. And on Wednesday’s top five episode, after host Nick Cannon struggled to unscrew the domed head off probably the heaviest and most cumbersome costume in Masked Singer history, out hatched Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson, looking as adorable as they did in their TRL heyday.

Hanson were never a matchy-matchy “boy band” per se — they wrote their own songs and played instruments — but youngest brother Zac joked, “You know, we have never taken to the stage wearing matching outfits before, but I think this might become a thing, you know?” Quipped middle brother Taylor, “You want more of us in spandex, is that what you're trying to say?” (Well, I’m sure the Fansons wouldn’t mind.)

I really think the Dolls should have made it to the finale. They were arguably Season 5’s most eclectic contestants — one week getting funky-fresh on a Bruno Mars or Jason Derulo banger (the latter of which sounded uncannily like Hanson’s 2020 soul-pop single “Nothing But a Love Song”), the next week channeling Ally and Jackson Maine on “Shallow,” and this week bopping around with Beefeaters in Elton spectacles and feather boas to “I’m Still Standing,” a splashy number that wouldn’t have been out of place at this week’s Brit Awards.

I’m disappointed that the Russian Dolls are no longer standing and won’t be moving on to next week’s top four semifinals, but at least their Masked Singer run proved that there’s more to the Hanson (who’ve actually been in the business for an incredible 29 years!) than just “MMMBop.” Said Taylor, “You're always seen as a certain thing. People think they know what you are. And [it’s nice] to be able to just start with music and focus on singing, and say, ‘Hey, you don't know what's behind this.’”

Perhaps not coincidentally, on the same day as their Masked Singer reveal, Hanson announced their forthcoming seventh studio album, Against the World, which will roll out as seven consecutive monthly singles throughout the year, starting with “Annalie.” In the meantime, I think the identities of the remaining top four celebrity contenders are just as obvious as the Dolls’, but here’s a primer:

The Black Swan, “Thinking Out Loud”

OK, I want the Black Swan to sing at my white wedding. This was such a sweet and charming cover of Ed Sheeran’s first-dance reception staple. Nicole Scherzinger and Jenny both broke out in goosebumps, and Nicole added, “That tone, those runs, those ad-libs! “You just killed it. That stage is yours tonight.” All of the judges gave this Swan song a standing ovation. I think with Hanson now out of the way, this is the Black Swan’s season to lose.

Clues: She’s had some “disappointments in her career,” has connections to Cher and Oprah Winfrey, and recently received some long-overdue “major recognition.” Past visual clues have included the states of Montana and New Hampshire, a stuffed rabbit, an “I’m late!” sign, and a talent contest. She has also mentioned being raised by a single mother, legal battles that derailed her promising childhood career, and breaking a chart record set by her idol Mariah Carey.

Judges’ guesses: Dua Lipa, Normani.

My guess: This is JoJo, who performed on Oprah at age 8 and is a massive Cher fan. Her 2006 single “Too Little, Too Late” surpassed the record previously held by Mariah Carey’s “Loverboy” for biggest jump into the Billboard Hot 100’s top three; she spent part of her childhood (with her single momager) in New Hampshire; she fought her record label, Blackground, for years; she competed on America’s Most Talented Kids; and she was originally supposed to play Hannah Montana. And that stuffed rabbit is a “JoJo” pun, too. This is an easy conclusion to jump to!

The Piglet, “Superstition”

In a “completely unexpected Masked Singer first,” the Piglet started off singing traditional opera, before segueing into this Stevie Wonder classic. This little piggy has a big voice, and as fab as the Stevie cover was, I wish he’d stuck with that impressive Pavarotti stuff. “The pig was lit!” exclaimed Nick Cannon.

Clues: His all-time idol is Bruce Willis, he started out in the 1990s, and he’s had some not-so-enviable “public relationships.” Past clues have included a secret birthmark on the side of his head, a connection to the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Marino, vampire teeth, cotton candy, and barbecue grilling.

Judges’ guesses: Justin Timberlake, Jeremy Renner, Nick Lachey.

My guess: This is indeed Bruce Willis superfan Nick Lachey — who has a secret birthmark, had his doomed marriage to “A Public Affair” singer Jessica Simpson chronicled on MTV’s Newlyweds, starred in the vampire horror flick Rise: Blood Hunter, used to work at an amusement park (where cotton candy is served), has hung out with Dan Marino, and was a member of ‘90s boy band 98 Degrees. Oh — and the Piglet sounds exactly like Lachey, even when singing opera.

The Yeti, “Bless the Broken Road”

Last week, this abominable showman did the old-school hip-hop jam “It Takes Two,” but this week he took a very different road indeed. “That was beautiful. You stripped it all back, and it was very sincere,” sighed a smitten Nicole. Rap songs, country songs, rollerblading — much like the Russian Dolls, there doesn't seem to be anything the Yeti can’t do. I bet he could even pull off opera, if he tried. And we ain’t seen nothin’ Yeti, because he will likely keep surprising in the semifinals. “He’s showed the most diversity,” Nicole noted.

Clues: Diddy “helped him reach the top of the mountain” and is his “greatest inspiration.” We also heard the words “step up,” “quadruple-threat,” and “panelist.” On past episodes we learned that the Yeti has a daughter, and we saw corn, the letters “ABCD” (with the “D” highlighted), donuts, New Year’s Eve party gear, and the word “love.”

Judges’ guesses: Channing Tatum, Twista, Ne-Yo.

My guess: This is definitely “Ice Box” singer, dynamite dancer, and doting dad Omarion, who began his career with Diddy, has starred in Love & Hip-Hop, You Got Served, and Corn Pops commercials, and was a panelist on America’s Best Dance Crew (or ABDC). The New Year’s visuals reference his former boy band B2K (Boys of the New Millennium), and the O-shaped donuts are a play on the title of his solo album, O. Plus, the Yeti sounds just like Omarion. These ‘90s teen heartthrobs really do have very distinctive voices!

The Chameleon, “Drop It Like It’s Hot”

This lizard got an attitude! This was hot, hot, hot, indeed. “Oh my gosh, that was like, MTV Music Awards performance right there. That was crazy,” raved Nicole. The Chameleon definitely isn’t a vocal powerhouse (and for that reason alone he should have gone home before the Russian Dolls), but he has always been this season’s consummate entertainer.

Clues: He’s a friend of Martha Stewart, he’s “not a singer,” he has a theater background, and his hero is Jackie Chan. In the past we saw orange slices, a toy airplane, a captain’s hat, martial arts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, chicken wings, a black-and-yellow taxicab, tailoring, and cheese. We also know he’s been nominated for a Golden Globe and is a “military kid.”

Judges’ guesses: Blake Griffin, Young Thug, or the actual Snoop Dogg.

My guess: This is not Snoop, but it’s the Doggfather's friend and collaborator, Wiz Khalifa. Wiz is a Jackie Chan fan, proud military brat, member of the Taylor Gang, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai expert, and recording artist behind “This Plane,” “Captain,” “Black and Yellow,” a Ninja Turtle theme, “Chicken With the Cheese,” the Globe-nominated “See You Again,” and the mixtape Kush & Orange Juice. So there you go.

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