[Spoiler alert: This story contains the identity of the eliminated contestants on Wednesday night’s (Nov. 11) episode of The Masked Singer.]
There has never been a double costume on The Masked Singer before, but after a season 4 that has already included the booting of a Circus of the Stars-level variety of singers — including Wendy Williams (Lips), Mark Sanchez (Baby Alien), Brian Austin Green (Giraffe), Mickey Rourke (Gremlin) and Busta Rhymes (Dragon) — Wednesday night’s two-fer booting was a sweet shocker.
The judges already assumed whoever was in the ridiculously cumbersome costume was a country-leaning couple, though probably not Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, given their almost equal heights. And some caught on very early that the pair’s emotional takes on A Great Big World’s “Say Something” and a countrified “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” by Meghan Trainor and John Legend were evidence they were veterans. But it was their spirited take on P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass” during Wednesday night’s group performance and two Celine Dion songs, “The Prayer” and “Because You Loved Me,” that blew the feathers off their secret.
Yes, the dynamic duo were none other than country superstar Clint Black and wife Lisa Hartman Black, who tell Billboard they had an absolute blast on the show, despite the sweaty, physically taxing costume that made it so they couldn’t even see one another during their performances. We spoke to them just before their elimination to find out the hardest part of nesting in the same egg, how their run on the competition inspired a new single and why they couldn’t shake the show’s strict security protocols even after the stage lights dimmed.
Whose idea was it to do this, and was one of you less onboard than the other at first?
Lisa Hartman Black: At first when we saw it, we laughed and looked at each other and said, “This could be fun!”
Clint Black: Yup, and we basically evolved and warmed to it at the same time. The first thought is that feeling in your stomach, “Ugh, am I really thinking about doing this?” And we weren’t doing anything else and it’s such a fun show, all positive. I always joke there’s no Simon Cowell on there ripping you apart, which is fun in its own way. We just love the positivity of the show and then we started really laughing like, “We’re really going to do this!”
LHB: I had been watching for a few weeks leading up to it… and then all of a sudden the email came in with the offer and I was like, “This is kind of bizarre.” We were both very familiar with it.
Lisa, it’s been awhile since you released an album, or sang in public for a big audience like this. Were you nervous about singing in public again?
LHB: Oh yes. I did a mini-tour with Clint last year, but yes, it’s few and far between. Then you suit up and put on a mask and you can’t see and breathe and it’s hot. So there were some nerves that go with it, but I thought, “I’m either going to fall on my face or work it out.” And that’s what you do. It was a blast.
CB: It’s always a challenge to get her to sing another song or record another song with me. So I was surprised that she wanted so much to do this. After we were done, we decided to strike while the iron is hot and I wrote us another duet. And it didn’t take any convincing, she was onboard because the show was so much fun. It was hard to find songs that suited us and suited the show and going through that and finding stuff we enjoyed singing got the juices flowing. So now we have a new duet due to The Masked Singer.
Tell me about “‘Till the End of Time” (out Dec. 3). What about the show inspired you to write it?
CB: It’s very good, according to me! [Laughs] It’s the only time when I was writing a song where she was in the room and I was seeing what she would think and trying as much as I could to get her feedback and response. It really became a real collaboration … although she’s not getting any songwriter credit! [Laughs] We’re going to perform it live at the Ryman Auditorium on December 2nd, which will be my first time doing a full-band concert since the lockdown began in March. I wrote the song in a few days and recorded it quickly. It’s strange and new and it’s strange that it is so strange and new. It’s really a love song.
LHB: It’s really beautiful.
You two have sung and recorded together before, but is this the most concentrated way you’ve ever done it?
CB: We’ve done a few movies together, but that’s more relaxed and laid-back. This was more confining in every way and secretive. We’ve gotten good at doing our thing, but this wasn’t our thing. It was new and different and a little more pressure. Any time you’re doing TV, there is a waiting game involved and I’m not good at waiting. I’m charging at the gate ready to go. Fortunately we’re in our 30th year of marriage, so we know how to work together and play together. So it’s probably easier for us.
LHB: When you both suit up and you put the heads on and you’re dealing with the elements or lack thereof… you get inside an egg and you’re operating it, you’re sort of on an equal level and you’re looking at each other the best you can, thinking, “Oh my God.” So it’s very humbling. It was a different kind of challenge, but it was really a lot of fun. We’d be inside the egg and I’d take his hand… because you don’t want to trip, there’s a lot of stuff going on.
What was the hardest part about being in that costume together?
LHB: There were so many feathers, we couldn’t turn, we couldn’t move. You had to completely turn sideways to see each other. And then once you’re inside the egg you have to take little itty-bitty steps and we had a hand brake in there. So we were laughing and sweating and every day there was just something new.
CB: Breathing was the hardest part. Some of the costumes were probably tougher than ours, but it’s really hot in there and you kind of feel like you’re suffocating. But you also have to step up and sing well. About 45 seconds in, you’re sweating profusely and then Ken [Jeong] goes into a comedy routine and you’re just thinking, “Let’s put Ken in there and see if he’ll do a routine now.”
What was the most surprising guess from the judges?
CB: I don’t hear my voice as being that distinctive, but you know it’s country so I wasn’t surprised they went in that direction. But Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman [Laughs] … I’m just thinking, “They actually said that?” Nicole’s a lot taller than Keith, so I slumped down a bit to make myself shorter.
We’ve all been wearing masks for almost a year now. Was doing this show kind of just like normal life, but with a way better mask?
LHB: No, it’s way harder, like Busta Rhymes said: It’s like being in an oxygen tank with no oxygen. But you love every minute of it. You take the mask off when you’re finished and you’re relieved and exhilarated. There’s no entertainment experience like it.
CB: I was actually afraid of catching the bird flu. [Laughs]
Some artists have a “tell” when they perform. Was there anything you had to tamp down to not give yourselves away?
LHB: It’s not a signature move, but I’m right-handed and I couldn’t hold the mic with my right hand because we had to operate the hand brake, and as silly as it sounds, that threw me. I had to have my right hand on the brake and the egg has to go this way or that, but it worked out fine.
CB: I was trying not to change my voice, but also I tired to make it as generic as I could and disguise my voice. But after 30 years on radio and doing concerts I kind of expected that fans who watch the show would hear me in there.
LHB: Oh yeah, on social media after the first night they were like, “We know it’s y’all!”
You’ve been married for three decades so no secrets anymore, but what did you learn about each other by spending this much time so close together?
LHB: There were challenges we’ve never experienced before and it was humbling, but in some ways it did bring us closer together. At night in the hotel we’d go in the bathroom to practice our choreography — Why didn’t we take video of it? It was so hilarious! — and we were working out our hand movements.
CB: We practiced in the mirror, but when you get in that costume and you can’t see your partner, you literally have to turn your whole body in there to see them, all bets are off.
LHB: I’d be watching on air after and I’d say, “I didn’t know you did that!” when he was pecking at Nick [Cannon].
Did anyone in your circle figure it out early on? Or did you slip at all?
LHB: No, but even when we were in the house alone we’d whisper.
CB: We’d be back at the hotel afterwards and when we’d walk out, we’d grab our masks and look for all the things you had to cover up with anytime you moved around on the shoot, and as we started to leave our hotel room, we’d be like, “We’re not covered up!” It got to the point where we would reflexively reach for that stuff anytime we would go anywhere.