So cute and so….over! On the second episode of The Masked Singer, Laila Ali — a.k.a. Panda — was eliminated from the competition after she was outperformed by the Flamingo and the Leopard. Here, Ali reveals what it was like to wear that hot and furry outfit, and what she thought about those not-so-difficult clues.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Judge Robin Thicke guessed that it was you right off the bat! Between the “world’s greatest family” comment and “banging your chest,” do you think those clues were too easy?
LAILA ALI: I definitely thought they were too easy. I thought they were a giveaway. I don’t pick the clues, but when I heard them, I was like, “Are they trying to tell you who I am?”
There was one clue about having a “good side.” What did that mean?
We don’t come up with the clues ourselves. We get interviewed about them and there are people who are obviously experts at doing this show who do the clues off of things we say. I don’t literally sit there and write the clues myself.
I was just curious if you knew what it meant.
What were you trying to convey when your first walked on stage?
I was trying to hide who I was, so when I came out on the stage I was acting like really shy, really timid. That’s not me at all. And then I wanted to show a confident side when I sing by doing empowerment songs. I was really trying to throw the audience off, and I think it worked. Everyone was all, “Oh, the Panda is so sweet! The Panda is so nice!” It would be a nice contrast for when they finally find out that I am a fighter.
The judges were floating some big names like Venus Williams, Queen Latifah, Martha Stewart. Do you think they are just coming up with anything?
I think they have to say something as judges but I would say Venus was a good guess. I don’t think they thought it was Martha Stewart. It was really hard with mine. They had all of these clues but the body was throwing them off. I made sure the body of the costume looked realistic. I was like, shape the booty like a real butt because at first it just looked like a pillow in my butt so I had them go back because I wanted them to really second guess whether there was padding in there. The judges were really thrown off. I remember them saying, “I’m thinking athlete but the body just doesn’t look like an athlete.”
Was that costume hot as hell?
Very. I was so happy to get it off. I didn’t want to go home, I hated to lose, but at the same time at least I can get out of this outfit, because I was dying in there. It was hot and heavy.
How many weeks were you allowed to prepare?
I prepared for a couple of weeks.
Were you able to hear the Flamingo perform backstage?
I did. When I heard the Flamingo, I knew that person definitely has a stronger voice than I had. Then I started thinking I was probably going to end up in the bottom. And then when I heard the Leopard, I felt like the song choice I had wasn’t good. I thought it was a battle song so I did rap. But the Leopard did a singing song. I started to second guess myself again. I thought, okay, I wasn’t actually singing. I thought the Leopard was going to be doing a song similar to mine. Those are things you find out in the moment. That’s how it rolls. That’s the fun of the competition!
I think the Leopard is Billy Porter. What do you think?
I have no idea. Billy Porter? That’s a good guess!
How did the voice box work when you addressed the audience after the song? Is there something right underneath the mask that changes your voice that makes it sound higher?
That’s done behind the scenes, it’s not something that is in the costume. I didn’t have any control over that. All I did was talk into the microphone and trust that they turned on whatever they had to hide the voice when you speak. When you sing, there is nothing on your voice. My voice is very distinct so if I spoke, that would give me away. My kids didn’t even know I was performing! We were watching it last night and they were so excited. I wanted to get their reaction. As soon as I started singing, they were like, “Mom, that sounds like you.” I was like, “How could it be me? I’m sitting right here!” They’re like, “Mom, that’s you.” Then they totally thought it was crazy when I took the mask off.
How did you get your kids to watch the show? Were they fans from the first season?
They didn’t know anything about the show. I just told them I really wanted to watch this cool show, it’s a competition. I had to tell them, “There could be any person underneath that mask, maybe one of the soccer players that you like, maybe a gamer, a YouTuber. A YouTuber was on last week!” That got them. They saw the preview of what happened last week and then they wanted to watch. Then when they started to watch they were like, “These are probably none of the people we know.”
That must have been the greatest moment when they saw it was you.
Well, you know what? I recorded it with my iPhone and then I erased it by accident. I could just kill myself for that. I couldn’t believe it! It was so perfect. I was going to post it on social media.
You’ve done a few reality shows. Which experience was better, Dancing With the Stars, Celebrity Apprentice, or this?
They are all big time shows. They are on a whole another level in terms of the magnitude of the show. They all serve their purpose for me…except Celebrity Apprentice. That didn’t really go as planned but I couldn’t control that. But I would say to Dancing With the Stars would be the ultimate favorite to me. That was when I had just retired from boxing and I decided that I needed another platform to show a different side of myself. I got exactly what I wanted out of the show. I had fun and it was a catapult to everything I’m doing now. And I went to the finals! So I had a little more control over everything. It was fun.
The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
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