The Astronaut falls to Earth: ‘Masked Singer’ castoff is country music heartthrob


This Wednesday on The Masked Singer, the Astronaut’s star dimmed and he came crashing down to Earth in sixth place. Ironically, it was the week when he’d given his most out-of-this-world performance yet, of One Direction’s “Story of My Life,” which had caused judge Nicole Scherzinger to break out in “goosebumps.” Maybe the space cadet, who’d struggled vocally all season, had done such an astronomical job with the boy-band classic because it was in his orbit: As widely predicted (by me, as well as by the rest of the internet), the Astro-boy was indeed former teen country singer Hunter Hayes.

“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” Hunter told the audience, once host Nick Cannon helped him unscrew his helmet. “This has been a great time in my life to hit a ‘reset’ button, to try a bunch of things that I was scared of — and this show is full of those!”

The judges then sent Hunter on his way with gushing well-wishes regarding his new career trajectory. I really don’t think Hunter’s next phase in show business is going to entail him dressing like an MTV Moonman/fish-aquarium accessory and covering Stevie Wonder and Rick Astley tunes, but good luck to him.

So now there are only five mystery celebrities left, and while the judges have predicted that it will all come down to the Frog versus the Turtle, Nick did describe Robin Thicke, Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong, and Nicole as the “least-trusted panel on TV.” So who knows what could happen? I think any of these masquerade ballers have a shot at winning that Golden Mask, as evidenced by their highly competitive performances below.

The Kitty, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”

This was very campy, very vampy, and very post-post-Postmodern Jukebox. Returning to the sexiness and sassiness of her first cabaret-style performance of the season, “Dangerous Woman,” this kitty-girl entertained like she was starring in her own Vegas revue — which, by the way, I would totally go see. I like this pussycat doll!

Judges’ guesses: Charlotte Church, Lea Michele, Eva Longoria.

My guess: I’ve been thinking this is America’s Got Talent runner-up Jackie Evancho for a couple weeks now, and now the cat is fully out of the bag. Key clues this week were mentions of “seal sisters” (Jackie starred in a save-the-seals PSA), having good manners, performing with soloists, and, as part of this Wednesday’s “Masked Munchies” theme in honor of guest judge Gordon Ramsay, an opera cake. Gordon was on the right track when he guessed Charlotte Church, but he picked the wrong soprano.

The Rhino, “Die a Happy Man”

This was an incredibly professional performance. It looked like something from the CMT Awards — except for, y’know, that giant rhinoceros head. (There’s aren’t too many rhinoceroses in Nashville.) The Rhino’s husky voice even impressed the normally cranky Gordon, which is no easy feat.

Judges’ guesses: Jeff Bridges, Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum, Barry Zito.

My guesses: The Rhino has been Season 3’s toughest character to figure out, but this week’s clues have solidified my late-in-season stance that this is indeed baseball star Barry Zito. He was shown Zenning out and doing yoga; he mentioned having “baby rhinos” (Barry is a father of two); and, most obviously, there was a Missouri flag with a crown affixed to it, which was a reference to Barry’s wife, former Miss Missouri Amber Seyer. Barry comes from a musical family and has released one legitimate country EP that actually cracked the Billboard Heatseekers chart, so maybe this one’s not so surprising after all. And if he knocks out a couple more home-run performances, he could win this thing.

The Frog, “Whatever It Takes”

When predicted that the Frog had the best odds of winning this season, I balked; even the Frog himself has repeatedly described himself as, well, not a singer. But this Imagine Dragons cover was next-level. This felt big and stadium-worthy, like an awards show performance, and it sounded cool, like something off the Judgment Night soundtrack. Maybe the Frog does have whatever it takes to leap to the top.

Judges’ guesses: Lil Jon, Bow Wow, Omarion.

My guess: Every single one of the past clues have had me thinking this is Bow Wow. And… this week’s clues still have me thinking this is Bow Wow. There were more basketball clues that pointed to his Like Mike past, for instance. And that “Masked Munchies” plate of catfish? That was probably not a reference to his heritage (Bow Wow is from Ohio, not the South), but to that time when some shady online dater impersonated him on MTV’s Catfish.

The Night Angel, “Black Velvet”

All right, this Alannah Myles song was dated when Nikki McKibbin did it way back on American Idol Season 1 — in 2002! And I do not understand why Jenny thought this was the best performance in the history of the Masked Singer series. It wasn’t even the best performance in the history of this Masked Singer episode! But I did appreciate the Night Angel’s well-appointed backup dancers, who were serving some Billy Porter-at-the-Grammys/Orville Peck realness (Orville is a literally a masked singer!) in their beaded-curtained lampshade hats.

Judges’ guesses: Monica, Chili from TLC, Kandi Burruss, Dawn Robinson.

My guess: There were a couple En Vogue references (“free your mind,” “don’t let go”) that lined up with the Dawn Robinson guess, but I am going to stick with my original prediction: This is hit songwriter-turned-Real Housewife (and En Vogue fan) Kandi Burruss. I even think the “Masked Munchies” clue — fried crickets, which Nick Cannon ate on TV! — might be a reference to a rival restaurant in the same trendy neighborhood as Kandi’s own eatery, Old Lady Gang.

The Turtle, “Stay”

The Turtle came out of his shell tonight! Well, more specifically, he came out of some disco ball/Spinal Tap pod thingy (and he hatched much more successfully than Derek Smalls did). Then he busted out a whole bunch of moves at a pace that was more hare than tortoise. His dancing was not at a Frog level, but the Turtle could still crawl into the finale if he keeps delivering dynamite performances like this one.

Judges’ guesses: Gavin DeGraw, Adam Lambert (again?), Zayn Malik.

My guess: It’s not friggin’ Adam Lambert, OK? Stop guessing that; the Turtle sounds nothing like him. But it does sound like Jesse McCartney. Along with all the previous clues, this week’s red, crown-topped heart was likely a reference to “Bleeding Love,” a hit that Jesse co-wrote for X Factor queen Leona Lewis. The giant chess board referenced his song “Checkmate.” And his “Masked Munchie” chips with apple salsa? That was probably a reference to his voiceover work for Alvin & The Chipmunks and his penchant for getting creative in the kitchen. (He might want to stick to singing and acting, though; Gordon thought his apple salsa recipe sounded disgusting.) The final clincher was the number “914” — the area code for Westchester County, N.Y., where Jesse grew up.

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