'The Masked Dancer': New 'Masked Singer' spin-off IDs celebs based on fancy footwork and many clues

Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
·4 min read

The two-step becomes the who-step on "The Masked Dancer," which premiered Sunday on Fox. .

The dancing spinoff, inspired by "The Masked Singer" and a segment on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show, shifts the focus from voice work to footwork, as 10 celebrities disguised in elaborate costumes spin, strut and leap as four famous panelists try to guess their identities. (DeGeneres is an executive producer.)

As with its hugely popular precursor, celebrities will be eliminated and unmasked each week – based on votes by the virtual audience and panelists – until the winner is revealed at the end of the nine-week competition. The show moves to its regular time slot, Wednesdays at 8 EST/PST, on Jan. 6.

Disco Ball, left, and host Craig Robinson appear during an episode of Fox's "The Masked Dancer."
Disco Ball, left, and host Craig Robinson appear during an episode of Fox's "The Masked Dancer."

The panelists – singer-dancer-choreographer Paula Abdul, actors Brian Austin Green and Ashley Tisdale and doctor and comic (relief) Ken Jeong – say it's tougher to identify people from their movement than their voice.

When former "American Idol" judge Abdul was offered the chance to join another Fox reality competition, "I was smiling from ear to ear. I'm such a big fan of 'The Masked Singer.' So, the only thing I kept saying is. 'How in the hell are we going to be able to guess who is dancing?' " she said. "At least with singing, you can be familiar with someone's tone and phrasing, but with dancing – there's going to be a lot of heavy weight on the clues."

Word hints and other clues are part of "Singer," but "Dancer" takes it a step further, says executive producer Craig Plestis, who oversees both competitions.

"We added in a special clue for the first time. It's called 'Word Up,' where you actually could hear their real voices," he said – at least for one word. "That’s a big clue in terms of the identity of some people – and the panel picked up on that."

Paula Abdul, the longtime "American Idol" judge, returns to Fox as a panelist on a new reality competition show, "The Masked Dancer."
Paula Abdul, the longtime "American Idol" judge, returns to Fox as a panelist on a new reality competition show, "The Masked Dancer."

Abdul almost picked up too much.

"She watched this one clue package (and) immediately pinpointed, going, 'OK, I know that voice. They are walking in a pigeon toe. I know who that is. It's X.' And I go, 'Oh, my gosh,'" Plestis said. "She figured it out in literally five seconds."

"Dancer" is structurally similar to "Singer," but with fewer competitors and a shorter run. Contestants initially are split into two units that compete separately until just the "Super Six" are left. Group A, which debuted Sunday, includes Exotic Bird, Tulip, Hammerhead, Disco Ball and Cricket, while Group B, which takes the stage Jan. 6, features Sloth, Ice Cube, Zebra, Cotton Candy and Miss Moth.

The costumes appear every bit as dazzling as the much-praised outfits on "Singer," but they also have to be lighter to allow for a greater range of movement.

Exotic Bird, center, performs with a flock of backup dancers on Fox's "The Masked Dancer," a spinoff of "The Masked Singer."
Exotic Bird, center, performs with a flock of backup dancers on Fox's "The Masked Dancer," a spinoff of "The Masked Singer."

"On 'Singer,' it was hard because there was such a limited range of motion that you could do within those costumes," says Green, who performed as Giraffe in Season 4 of "Singer," which ended this month.

"They've solved that a lot on this show. The costumes seem a lot more streamlined and a lot easier to move in," he says, noting that limited field of view afforded by the masks make dancing a challenge.

Producers don't rule out the participation of professional dancers, much as "Singer" has featured Gladys Knight in Season 1 and LeAnn Rimes (Sun), revealed as the Season 4 winner, among others.

Hammerhead appears to be trying to submerge during a performance on Fox's "The Masked Dancer."
Hammerhead appears to be trying to submerge during a performance on Fox's "The Masked Dancer."

"Singer" and "Dancer" also share Jeong, who appears determined to convert Fox into the Ken network, as he also headlines "I Can See Your Voice" and "Fox's New Year's Eve Toast & Roast 2021." Expect "Dancer" to be a Jeong show of trademark Ken putdowns, both self-inflicted and eagerly volunteered by Robinson.

Riffing about the possibility of a "Masked Comedian" spinoff, host Craig Robinson says Jeong "should probably just wear a mask all the time," and disses the ever-present panelist while discussing his level of fame is required to participate.

Ken Jeong, wearing festive headgear for a pre-Thanksgiving episode of "The Masked Singer," will bring his unique panelist style to the upcoming Fox spinoff, "The Masked Dancer."
Ken Jeong, wearing festive headgear for a pre-Thanksgiving episode of "The Masked Singer," will bring his unique panelist style to the upcoming Fox spinoff, "The Masked Dancer."

"They don't have to be that well-known," Robinson says. "You can go anywhere from the highest, like Tom Cruise to, like, Dr. Ken. Do you know what I'm saying?"

"True," Jeong responds. "You go to the highest of the highs or the gutter with me."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Masked Dancer' is 'Masked Singer' spinoff that's all about footwork