Could Brad Pitt, Michelle or Barack Obama, or Oprah Winfrey be under a mask this season?
Credit: Michael Becker / FOX; Inset: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Each one of The Masked Singer's first three seasons has been a ratings hit for Fox, but it's only just now seeing success of a different kind.

For the first time since the debut of the singing competition show, The Masked Singer is up for a top prize at next month's Emmys: Outstanding Competition Program. The series, which puts celebrities in elaborate disguises and makes armchair detectives out of its viewers as they seek to uncover each singer's identity, had only been nominated previously for its intricate and outrageous costumes.

Here, executive producer Craig Plestis reveals what he believes is the key ingredient to the show's continued success, what the most challenging aspects of producing the quirky competition program are, and more. Plus, he teases what fans can expect from the show's fourth season, debuting this fall on Fox.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is the first big Emmy nomination for the show. Why was this the year?

CRAIG PLESTIS: I think because we've been snowballing. The first year, it's like, are we just a one-hit wonder? Is it just a flash in the pan? We came back again, we're number one again in season 2, and then season 3 being launched behind the Super Bowl, I think it just got even more awareness with that platform that was afforded to us. We were very lucky as a show to get that spot. So I think it was just the right timing, right place, and just an incredible season this year that we just had, with some incredible performances and costumes. So we're just lucky and blessed that we were actually nominated. We're all thrilled beyond belief.

What are some of the unique challenges of making this show, for you as a producer?

First and foremost, it's keeping it all a secret. This is not just who did a better job performing, like a lot of other talent shows. This is who's behind the mask. And so our jobs as producers is to keep that secret alive until that mask comes off. So it's a lot of extra energy that we have to do as a production, with security, with our celebrities, and not letting hardly anyone know who that person is. There's only a handful of people on our team, I swear, who know who our celebrities are. Our director doesn't know, our panel does not know when they're guessing. There's just a few producers on our team, as well as only a few people over at Fox. So security is foremost for us, keeping that guessing game alive. And then after that it's just making an incredible show, putting the spectacle in place here. And also just creating these costumes. I mean, our show lives and dies by these creations and just making them all lovable so America can root for them without even knowing who that celebrity is behind them.

We just have such an incredible team, and Marina [Toybina] is just fantastic coming up with [the costumes]. But also our celebrities help bring it to life. They help customize it here and there, and when they put it on they become that character, whatever it might be, from the Turtle to the Robot to the Bear. The saddest experience of our life is when they get unmasked and they have to leave their costume behind. We've had celebrities almost crying walking out of the studio because they have to say goodbye to their characters. We have so much footage of them just saying goodbye to their masks. It's just heartbreaking. It's the secret unknown story of The Masked Singer.

Season 3 saw double-digit ratings gains in episodes that aired during the coronavirus pandemic. Did that surprise you at all?

It didn't surprise me 100 percent, only because the way we've always looked at this show is: We're an island. When people are so tired of the news cycle, what's going on politically or just the pandemic, we're just an escape from reality. It's an hour for America to sit back and play a big guessing game, and for the families to come together. I really believe that's the hidden secret in our show. I'm online every time our show airs, just seeing what people are saying about it so I can learn how to do it better, and my team is as well, and the majority of the responses are "Thank you, Fox and the producers, for putting on a show that we can watch as a family." I think that's lost on a lot of other shows. They're very niche shows. And we really try to be broad for our broadcaster, where everybody from 8 to 80 can watch it and partake in it. I think it's a lost art, but when you do it right and do it well, [the viewers] will show up. And that's the secret recipe for The Masked Singer.

If you could have anyone on the show, who would it be?

I have such a long list, it's incredible. My top four would be: I love Michelle Obama. I love Barack Obama. I'd love to get Oprah [Winfrey]. I'd love to get Brad Pitt. Now, those are the four I mentioned, but it doesn't mean they're not going to show up. One of them might show up sometime on season 4, but I can't tell you.

In the first season, we had to go knocking on doors of celebrities saying, "Please be on our show. Trust us. It's going to work." But now because there's so many celebrities who have families and their kids watch the show, they're calling us and saying, "I want to do it as a surprise for my kids." And that's a great blessing we have as producers for a show, that people are calling us now, and great people are calling us. So we have just a wealth of celebrities that want to do the show, and hopefully we'll be around long enough to get through all of them.

Obviously, season 4 is going to look different on account of the pandemic. How will this season differ from the prior seasons?

We have some really incredible ideas that have not been done before on any other show. I think there's a lot that you'll see that we have done with the show, from the way we're doing our staging this year, with some new incredible ideas, as well as the way we're doing our clue packages — we pushed the bar of creativity of storytelling to a new level that you haven't seen yet on any Masked Singer [including international versions of the show] at all. I don't like to say anything positive about the pandemic, but what it did to us as producers is it made us be more creative and more inventive in how we made the show. This is the one show where we can go more bizarre, and it's okay. You can break the boundaries. And so I think that's what you're going to see on this season. In the past when we said this was a bonkers show — it's even more bonkers now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Listen to EW’s 'The Awardist' podcast to get the latest Emmys scoop: Interviews with Regina King, Ted Danson, Cate Blanchett, and more!

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Episode Recaps

The Masked Singer

Celebs compete in this reality-singing TV show while wearing elaborate costumes to conceal their identities. Can you guess the celebrity behind the mask?

  • TV Show
  • 8
  • Wednesdays at 08:00 PM