Patrick Freyne: The Masked Singer is a bit like an Eyes Wide Shut party

A traffic cone singing ‘If you like piña coladas’? This must be the DTs again

I am now going to write an essay in which I argue that celebrity talent show The Masked Singer (Saturday, Virgin Media 1) is a Baudrillardian deconstruction of modern fame. And there's nothing you can do to stop me.

Let’s start with the judging panel, which tells its own story about contemporary stardom. As far as I can gather, this panel have no control whatsoever on who gets through to the next round on The Masked Singer. They sit there, pointlessly guessing at the identity of the masked celebrities bumping and grinding before them, much like they might do at the Eyes Wide Shut-style parties famous people probably attend on their days off.

Comedian Mo Gilligan is the likeable proxy-for-the-audience judge. He seems delighted to be there. As is presenter Joel Dommett, who emerges accompanied by strutting bodyguards and dressed a little like he's making his First Communion. The stage he arrives on is flanked by huge blank heads. They are presumably meant to represent masks, but if you come to this programme cold, they just look like big, silently screaming faces.

Unlike the others, Joan Collins is a proper star, an explosion of charismatic plasma around which they can only hope to orbit without incinerating

Rita Ora is the platonic panel show judge. According to legend she is a singer, but few have ever heard Ora sing. When we finally do, it will probably herald the end times. She is on all of the shows that feature a celebrity panel. All of them. As soon as she walks though the "exit" door of a television talent contest she finds herself on the set of another different television talent contest. She's probably thinking: "When will this nightmare end?" Rita Ora is basically the spirit of the age, sitting on the sidelines reacting to the activities of others with no power to change anything.


Jonathan Ross was once the biggest chat show host on the BBC until he detonated it all with a smutty on-air prank call to the man who played Manuel on Fawlty Towers. Now he has a show on ITV. He understands the fickle nature of celebrity. As I type, he's doing his best to evaluate what celebrity is pretending to be a giant mushroom but he's also thinking: "Perhaps I am a giant mushroom pretending to be a celebrity?"

In the olden days, Davina McCall hosted all of the shiny floor family entertainment shows. Now she's almost better known as the "face" of cosmetics brand Garnier. Her eyes are as clear as Powerpoint slides. Her teeth are as crisp as a spreadsheet. She looks like she's thinking: "My visage imprinted on your product offering will increase market share by many $$$!"

Ageless demigod

The guest judge this week is ageless demigod Joan Collins. Her shoulders are befeathered and she emanates an aura of total power. Unlike the others, Collins is a proper star, an explosion of charismatic plasma around which they can only hope to orbit without incinerating. Do not look directly at Joan Collins. And do not put a mask on her, you fools, or the mask will disintegrate and mankind will perish.

On to the substance of the show. The first contestant of the evening is a large traffic cone with a moustache surrounded by a dancing sun, some dancing pineapples and some hula dancers. The traffic cone is singing “If you like piña coladas … ” If you’re a drinker, you’ll recognise what’s happening here as the DTs.

The next contestant is a soulfully voiced humanoid with the plumed head of a rockhopper penguin. Jonathan Ross nods in appreciation, for he loves the arts

The traffic cone is wearing a garland of flowers, sunglasses and work boots but nothing else, much like a Chippendale. But nobody comments on the nudity. And nobody screams: "How can it live? Is it possessed by a ghost? Or does it have a circulatory system and internal organs? The concept is unclear!" This is because, unlike you, they haven't forgotten the premise of the programme, which is that the traffic cone is just a human dressed in costume. The panel suggest celebrities it could be. Ora's suggestions are always the most unlikely. One week she suggested Will Smith was pretending to be a singing bunny. Inspired by Ora I start shouting my own suggestions: "Bertrand Russell! "; "The Krankies!"; "The traitor Benedict Arnold! "

The next contestant to emerge is a soulfully voiced humanoid with the plumed head of a rockhopper penguin. Jonathan Ross nods in appreciation, for he loves the arts. Robobunny, a contestant dressed as a sort of rabbit cyborg, croons a Miley Cyrus song. Gilligan is moved by the beauty. After a while, a nightmarish mushroom woman sings to a man in 18th-century dress. McCall is amazed at the world’s wonders.

Bashful panda

Joan Collins's mind is on other things. She is moved by a bashful panda dressed as a boy scout and mentions how she once had a pet panda. It's unclear if this is a joke or not but she's Joan Collins – if she wants a pet panda she can have one. Jesus, if she wants to eat a panda, who are we to stop her? Give Collins as many pandas as she desires!

As the show progresses, contestants are evicted by audience fiat. The exhibitionist traffic cone is revealed, halfway through this week’s proceedings, to be Welsh songmonger Aled Jones.

The Masked Singer is clearly softening us up for the superior forms of celebrity beast-folk that will soon be on offer inside Zuckerberg's Hellish Metaverse

The grotesque avian-headed chanteuse is rejected at the end of the episode, having also aroused the mob’s displeasure. Every instalment of The Masked Singer I hope will be the one where we all realise that it isn’t a mask, and the bird person/bunny/mushroom turns to the camera and says, “Yes, I am not a celebrity at all. I truly am the cursed chimera I appear to be. I have long dreamt that my beautiful singing voice would lead to my acceptance in human society. Please let me tell you my sad tale.”

It doesn’t happen in this episode. The feathered tune wrangler is just Michelle from Destiny’s Child. The Masked Singer is clearly softening us up for the superior forms of celebrity beast-folk that will soon be on offer inside Zuckerberg’s Hellish Metaverse. How can people such as Aled Jones or Michelle from Destiny’s Child or Rita Ora or Jonathan Ross possibly hope to compete with a creepy mushroom person or a sentient traffic cone or a woman with the head of a bird? This show is designed to make us hunger in our hearts for something the physical world can’t provide.

Pamela sidelined by a speaking penis

The creators of Pam and Tommy (Disney Plus) have come to a similar nightmarish conclusion and so have given Tommy Lee's penis a speaking role in their 1990s-set period drama about the theft of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's sex tape. Tommy Lee's Penis may yet become the first classic Disney animated character of the 21st century, but right now it signposts a problem with the show. The creators can't decide what story they're telling. Is it a serious drama about the sexist treatment of an interesting woman or an Ocean's Eleven-style heist yarn about the scuzzy men who exploited her or a bawdy cartoon about fin-de-siecle mores? How Anderson (Lily James)'s wider ambitions were stymied by a misogynistic culture is far more interesting than Seth Rogen's petty pornographer character or whatever is happening with Tommy Lee's penis. Even in the story of her own life, Anderson is sidelined by mediocre men.