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Exit the Dragon: First 'Masked Singer' Season 4 castoff is Grammy-nominated '90s rapper


The Masked Singer was truly ahead of its time, enforcing mask-wearing, extreme sequestering and social-distancing long before such measures became pandemic protocols. This Wednesday, the now-Emmy-winning show returned to the airwaves amid a dystopian hellscape that seems even more surreal than that time when Sarah Palin performed “Baby Got Back” in a Day-Glo bear suit, providing some escapist entertainment just when we all need it most.

Finally we have something fun involving masks!” declared host Nick Cannon on Wednesday’s big premiere, as he introduced the five mystery celebrity cosplayers comprising Season 4’s Group A: the Sun, Giraffe, Popcorn, Dragon… and, in a series first, a duo, the hydra-headed/conjoined Snow Owls (because #2020).

But sadly, Wednesday’s premiere was a drag for the Dragon, who despite breathing total fire on LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” and — according to judge Ken Jeong — “sounding like a legend,” was the first contestant knocked out of the competition.

Well, there was a good reason why the Dragon sounded like a legend — because, it turned out, he is! Just as Season 3 kicked off with the “best reveal ever!” of Lil Wayne, this season opened with the unmasking of another hip-hop icon: multiplatinum 11-time Grammy nominee Busta Rhymes.

“You are rap royalty. There will never be another artist like you. Thank you for being on our show,” gushed judge Nicole Scherzinger. Fake shocked reactions from the fake studio audience were expertly edited in during post to heighten to the drama, but two of judges, Robin Thicke and Nicole, had instantly recognized the Year of the Dragon rapper’s growl and total ease with being in costume. “It definitely brought back all of the incredible, crazy outfits,” Busta said of his brief Masked Singer experience.

I’m sad to see Busta go, but the Season 4 fun has only just begun, of course! Let’s assess Wednesday’s surviving singers, and let the guessing games commence. Over the coming weeks, we will meet the 11 other contestants comprising Groups B and C — including the Broccoli (who totally should do Dana Carvey’s “Choppin’ Broccoli” song from SNL), the Jellyfish (who should cover the entirety of Spilt Milk), the bipedal Lips (who seriously needs to sing “Funkytown” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”), and the Mushroom, which I assume will be of the psilocybin variety, because this show is trippy as hell.

The Sun, “‘Cuz I Love You”

The Sun was a fireball of energy, and she kicked off the show with solar flair. She can definitely belt, but there was a certain actress-y quality to her performance that made me suspect that she isn’t a professional singer by trade — unless it’s on a Broadway or Vegas stage.

The clues: This bright and shining talent is a “Gold Member” who lives in a peaceful “sanctuary”; felt like the “center of universe” when she first “sprung into existence” but then got “burned out” by early stardom; and was once “frozen” in a deep depression before being “transformed into a ray of light.” One animated visual clue also showed her leaping into the shallow end of a pool.

Judges’ guesses: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Katharine McPhee, Demi Lovato, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow.

My guess: You guys, it’s totally not Madonna, despite the references to two of her Ray of Light album tracks. Madonna has a biopic to direct and co-write, so she’s too busy for reality-TV shenanigans. But I do think the Sun could be Austin Powers in Goldmember and Shallow Hal star Gwyneth. Aside from the vocal affectations on this sassy Lizzo cover, the Sun did sort of sound like Gwyneth. Gwyneth also is someone who was born into a showbiz family, became extremely famous at a young age and then retreated from acting, suffered from postpartum depression, and is now a new-agey, Zenned-out lifestyle guru. She’s also been on Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People and is an Oscar nominee (and winner) — both résumé credits that we know apply to at least one of this season’s 16 contestants. The clues add up, so if the Sun drops a Shakespeare reference, struts through a set of sliding doors, or mentions anything about conscious uncoupling or jade eggs in future episodes, I’ll be 100 percent convinced.

The Giraffe, “Let’s Get It Started”

Speaking of Madonna, this long-necked beautiful creature was serving VMAs “Vogue” realness (or maybe Prince Poppycock realness) in his ruffled, pre-Revolution Parisian garb. He didn’t sound like a pro singer (in fact, he said he was happy to have the focus not be on his vocals), but he definitely performed like someone accustomed to commanding a stage.

The clues: Music is “in his blood,” but when he took a musical risk, the Giraffe became the “butt of jokes” and “thought the party was over.” His career and life have been a “rollercoaster,” but after “crashing and burning,” he has recovered and “drummed up towering success.” Additionally, there was an amusement park visual clue. The Giraffe also talked about loving the anonymity this show provides — implying that he is super-famous and recognizable.

Judges’ guesses: Garth Brooks (as Chris Gaines), Vanilla Ice, Travis Barker.

My guess: You guys, here’s the dirt, so to speak. The Giraffe isn’t Travis, but he is a famous drummer… Motley Crüe’s Tommy Lee! It all adds up. Tommy has been ridiculed for his past musical risks with rap/rock band Methods of Mayhem; he plays drums on a rollercoaster; he’s been known to party and has certainly crashed and burned more than once; and that amusement park could refer to the Crüe’s “Carnival of Sins” or his Tommyland book and solo album. Plus, conveniently, Tommy has a new solo album to promote. At a slim 6-foot-2, he fits the spotted suit, and this wacky show is totally something he would do, especially if his wife Brittany Furlan put him up to it. So I think the Giraffe has the masked looks that kill!

The Popcorn, “What About Us?”

This contestant had a voice like buttah and really got it poppin’. There’s no way someone could pull off a P!nk song this well unless she was a consummate-professional diva.

The clues: “Miss Popcorn If You’re Nasty” is a “hustler” who’s “built a career around love” and is “buttery,” “cheesy,” “sweet,” and “salty,” all at the same time. We also saw references to “the ‘hood,” hoop earrings, “puff,” and˜ a “Proud Merry-Go-‘Round.” Also worth noting: In a pre-show clues package last week, the Popcorn uttered the phrase “mirror mirror.”

Judges’ guesses: Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, Carole Baskin, Mary J. Blige.

My guess: Carole is too busy stirring up controversy on Dancing With the Stars, and besides, there’s no way she can belt like this. But “Real Love” and “Mirror” singer, Bad Boy Records signing, and hoops enthusiast Mary J. Blige sure can! So maybe that’s the 411.

The Snow Owls, “Say Something”

Two owls, one egg! These feathered friends were kind of creepy, but also very cute. They harmonized like blood relatives, and definitely seemed liked they’d been performing together all their lives. Judge Robin Thicke described their A Great Big World duet as “utter perfection.”

The clues: The public hasn’t seen these two together “in a while,” but now it’s time for a “family reunion.” There were references to roses and pearls and the Christmas carol “Let It Snow,” and at one time the female owl cried out, “Oh, brother!”

Judges’ guesses: Amy Grant & Vince Gill, Maureen McCormick & Barry Williams, Donny & Marie, Eugene Levy & Catherine O’Hara.

My guess: I think this duo is a little bit country and a little but rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, it’s Donny and Marie Osmond! Marie sells pearl jewelry, had a top 10 hit with “Paper Roses,” and has also recorded “Let It Snow.” The Peacock’s The Masked Singer performance, which opened Season 1, was randomly referenced tonight, and Donny was that season’s Peacock. And the playful, teasing dynamic between the two Snow Owls felt very familiar and Osmonds-esque. Finally,,, the International Owl Center even sells a plush-toy owl named Osmond! Still, I kind of wish these two had dressed up as the Crazy Horses.

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