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Yes, that was real life: ‘The Masked Singer’ premiered and was even weirder than you imagined

How weird is Fox’s new reality singing competition “The Masked Singer”? Even before the show debuted Wednesday night, the ads were seriously strange, as they featured celebrities cloaked in deranged-looking animal costumes while they belted out songs onstage. Here are some helpful descriptions:

“The Masked Singers not only wear masks, their masks are attached to some of the most nightmare-inducing costumes ever seen on TV.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“If you’re one of the unfortunate few who contracted an illness over the holiday break. . . . ‘The Masked Singer’ is not some fever dream you’re having.” (TVLine)

“The vibe of the whole thing is ‘what if Gritty walked out on a soundstage made to look like an arena concert, belted out Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me,’ was described as ‘a professional’ by Jenny McCarthy, took off his head to reveal he was Joey Fatone, and the entire experience felt three clicks away from an episode of ‘Black Mirror’?” (Vulture)

Anyway, the gist: The series, based on an extremely popular South Korean reality show, has enlisted 12 celebrities to dress up in elaborate costumes and sing for a studio audience. No one has any idea who the singers are, because in addition to the masks, their voices are distorted. A panel of judges and a studio audience vote on which singer is the best, and at the end of each episode, the celebrity with the lowest number of votes is sent home and is — wait for it — unmasked.

It’s even more insane than it sounds — and by pure coincidence, the celebrity who was unmasked this week was actually a shocking reveal. These were the five most bizarre moments from the premiere, which had performances from a peacock, hippo, monster, unicorn, deer and lion:

1) The panel of “expert” judges.

Host Nick Cannon, who has spent years seeing oddities on “America’s Got Talent,” was made for this gig.

“’The Masked Singer' isn’t just a whodunit. This is a whosungit,” Cannon explained. “Just like you, I have no idea who any of these singers are. Some of them may be friends. Some of them I may have married.” (He paused for appreciative applause from the audience.)

Then he introduced the judges: “A singing sensation with a golden ear, Robin Thicke! The vivacious and opinionated, Jenny McCarthy! He’s our very own comedy doctor, the brilliant and hilarious Ken Jeong! She’s a gifted singer and dancer who was the voice of the Pussycat Dolls, Nicole Scherzinger!”

We’ll let you form your own opinion about those descriptions.

2) The clue-filled videos for each singer.

Before each performance, a brief video offered clues about the singer’s identity. It was similar to “The Voice” or “American Idol,” when a contestant has to share a few deeply personal facts so the audience can be invested in their story.

The unicorn said she always wanted to be a singer, but people told her she wasn’t worthy. The lion explained she’s Hollywood royalty, and now it’s time for her to stand on her own. The monster told a frankly devastating story about being forced to retreat from public life.

Fox’s ‘The Masked Singer’: Donny Osmond? T-Pain? Rumer Willis? Our best guesses on the celebrities in disguise.

“I am a monster because that’s what the world labeled me,” the monster said, as sad music started to play in the background. “I was at the top of my game, but the game turned on me. So I retreated into my cave to take a break from the public eye.”

“Oh, sweet pea!” Scherzinger cried out.

“I think he’s done some time,” Jeong said.

3) The “critiques” from the judges.

Perhaps because they’re the only faces you can actually see, the cameras spent a lot of time with the panel. Thicke, McCarthy, Jeong and Scherzinger were constantly shown critiquing the performances.

“There’s something attractive about the hippo!” McCarthy said brightly as the hippo sang Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.”

“I haven’t seen this type of stellar performance from a horse since the Kentucky Derby,” Jeong observed as the unicorn belted out Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.”

“Her posture was perfect, her legs were in front, she shook her hips right on time. I’m telling you that that’s a well-trained professional,” Thicke insisted after the lion sang Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got).”

“Robin, stop hitting on the livestock,” Jeong said.

4) The unwieldy costumes.

As you might have suspected, those outfits were not easy to navigate. In one brief but humiliating moment, the monster couldn’t even walk offstage without help. “I need some monster assistance!” Cannon yelled, as he tried to guide the monster so he wouldn’t fall off the platform.

5) The big reveal.

At the end of the hour, the hippo was eliminated. (His performance of “My Prerogative” was not great.) Earlier, he gave some helpful clues such as “I’m used to performing in a mask in front of thousands of screaming fans” and “Every time I win, I just gotta dance, even if it gets me in trouble.” The judges correctly deduced the hippo was probably a football player, though they guessed Odell Beckham Jr. or Deion Sanders.

It was, in fact, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and former “Dancing With the Stars” contestant Antonio Brown. And in a wonderful coincidence for Fox, this was actually dramatic! Brown has been in the headlines after skipping the Steelers game on Sunday, especially after it was reported that his absence may have involved a dispute between him and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Members of the media grilled Coach Mike Tomlin about Brown during a tense news conference earlier Wednesday; and while Brown’s absence had nothing to do with “The Masked Singer” (filmed in June), can you imagine if Tomlin had to face questions right after Brown had shown up on this insane program? Oh, what could have been.

“Antonio, now, you’ve been to a Super Bowl before. How does this compare?” Cannon asked, as “Antonio Brown” became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter.

“It was a challenge being able to stay on beat, but it was exciting,” Brown said. “I was glad to be a part of it, and I had a good time today.”

“And ladies, I mean, how handsome is this guy?” Thicke called out. “You gotta see him without his helmet more often, right?”

Brown responded by lifting up his shirt to show off his sculpted abs; a fitting note on which to end one of the craziest reality shows of our time.

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