JoJo says being Black Swan on The Masked Singer inspired her to put out 'a new era' of music
The unmasked contestant tells EW that last season's Seahorse, a.k.a. Tori Kelly, was one of the biggest reasons she agreed to do the show.
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's season 5 finale of The Masked Singer.
After a rousing rendition of Michael Bolton's "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You," the sultry bird ended up in second place behind the Piglet, and was revealed to be chart-topping R&B and pop singer JoJo. Ahead, EW talks to the singer about what her time on the show meant to her, which of her famous friends (and past TMS contestants!) knew she was on this season, and her upcoming new music.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In the finale, you talked about being scared to do The Masked Singer. Why did it scare you?
JOJO: Because it looks so crazy! When I was watching last season, I was like, "Oh my god, this is the wildest show I've ever seen." And when the show was coming to America, I was aware of it, and they had asked me if I would be a part of it in previous seasons, but I wasn't ready. And I hadn't really watched it until last season. So I was scared because I feel like these contestants make it look really easy, but something told me that it was going to be kind of strange inside of that costume. And it was! It was super heavy. It kind of felt like singing into a pillow. It really forced me to not take myself too seriously, which is definitely something that I needed. But even when you know it's something you need, sometimes it's still nerve-wracking to face it.
The contestants do make it look so easy.
Yeah, nobody could have prepared, I think, for what it feels like in there. What I mean also about being scared, I just never envisioned myself in a giant swan costume singing my heart out. Sometimes you do things you think you'd never do, and it ends up being a game changer. I'm glad I said yes.
Since they've asked you to be on the show in the past, did you have a costume in mind in case you ever agreed to do it?
I have a blue bird on my arm that's part of my most recent tattoo — I love birds. They really inspire me, and I wish I could fly. So I knew I wanted to be some type of beautiful winged creature, but I was kind of more in line with like the Phoenix. Something really colorful, and attention-grabbing like that. And I brought that to the show's attention, and I was like, "Why can't I be a colorful bird?" And now I know, because the Phoenix was on this season too, so they already had that. But, in that spirit, they showed me Black Swan. It was one of the final costumes that they showed me after I had said no to some other ones. They showed me the design for her, and I was just like, wow. She's so stunning and rare and mysterious and powerful, all things that I want to embody. So, it wasn't even a question once I saw her.
I thought it was funny that the finalists sang "How Do I Live" with season 4 winner LeAnn Rimes, and then you sang "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" for your final performance.
Oh I know! That was so crazy. I found out we were singing her song at the end of [the season]. And I'm like, okay, this is exactly like the same title and spirit as the last song that I'm singing. I just thought that was ironic. It was cool to sing with her, though, because I was fangirling not only over LeAnn Rimes, but also like, over the Sun in general, because that was my favorite costume last year. I watched every episode. It was like a glorious TV moment when she turned around and was unveiled [on the finale]. I was like, "Oh, I love this!" And me and LeAnn have had the unique experience of starting in this industry so young, so it was also really special to get to sing with her even though we didn't get to talk because I wasn't unmasked yet. But still, I felt like a bit of a kindred spirit with her, because both of us have had that ride that a lot of people have not had.
You changed up the arrangements and styles of so many of your performances. How did you go about making those decisions, and how much of it was Fox's call?
They do have a lot of input, but they also want each of us to be excited about the songs we're singing. So I wrote down a long list of different songs that I knew I wanted to sing, to play across genres and not be confined to one particular area because I'm such a music nerd and fan. I wanted to be able to try out some different things, and I worked really closely with the musical director, Miguel Gandelman. He made me feel really confident that we could take something on and make it totally different, like "Tequila" or the Ed Sheeran song. I think "In My Blood" was one of my favorites, and then also the Kings of Leon song, because it's not something that I would have thought of off the top of my head, but he brought it to me as an idea. I was open to it, and it ended up being one of my favorites. So it wasn't just me that was choosing the songs, it was definitely a collaborative experience.
Did you have a favorite performance from the season?
I mean, all of them were fun for different reasons. Like that Stevie Wonder song "Do I Do" is one of my favorite songs in general. And then probably the finale, too, that Michael Bolton song. It's such an epic, emotional song, and I was so in my feelings on that day, and just excited to have made it that far. So, I would say that's one of my favorites.
You said on the show that you didn't come to win, but you got really close!
I really didn't, because I've seen some of the best singers in the world, icons and legends, not win on this show. So I wasn't expecting at all to make it past even the first round. Every single time I would not get eliminated, I would be shocked, because you just never know what's gonna happen. And it's so much about are people endeared to the character and do they like the journey? And do they like the song selection? It's a lot of different things that come into play. So every time I would make it to the next round, I was just excited that I got to sing another song. That was really what I was excited about. I didn't expect to win or to stay, ever.
Speaking of icons on the show, I know you're good friends with last season's Seahorse, Tori Kelly, and of course panelist Nicole Scherzinger. Did they reach out to you to be like, hey, I know you're Black Swan?
Yes. And Tori is actually a big part of the reason why I decided to do the show, because when she was unmasked, I texted her right away and she was telling me about her experience. It just sounded like something that she had so much fun with. So that was the final confirmation for me, that's all I needed to hear, that she had such a good time. And she he hit me a few times during this season and was basically like, "You're killing it Black Swan. I love this song." And I was just like, "Girl, you're crazy," and just trying to play it off. But I'm a pretty sucky liar, so I don't know if I did the best job of throwing people off. [Laughs.] I've known Nicole a long time, known Tori a long time, and I've definitely gotten a lot of texts and tweets and stuff, but I just tried to ignore it, because what I love about the show as a viewer is really questioning yourself. Is this what I think I hear? Like, are my ears fooling me? And I wanted them to be able to have that experience, too, even my family and friends.
I know you have some new music coming out. What can you tell me about it?
Yeah, tons of new music and stuff that I'm really excited to take on the road and get back out and perform live. If it wasn't for the show, I really don't know that I would be in the mental space that I'm in now to write and perform and to feel confident again. Like a lot of people, I just go through waves of feeling like I suck, and then feeling like, "Okay, I'm actually pretty good at this, and I love it more than anything." Just being an artist, you can be so vulnerable. That's how I feel, at least. So I'm so excited that [my new single] "Creature of Habit" is coming out tonight at midnight ET. It's the first taste of a new era for me, and of leading with the same fearlessness that allowed me to say yes to the show, and just not taking myself too seriously, continuing to be vulnerable, and to hopefully connect with other human beings, because that's my favorite thing in the world to do. That's what I love to do. When I'm on tour, I just love people, and I love how music can bring us together. So I just want to continue to do more of that.
When can we expect the new music?
So the "Creature of Habit" video is coming out tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET, and I'm going to put out a capsule project in the fall. And then another project that I'm working on next year, and a tour as well.
What surprised you the most about your time on The Masked Singer?
How much I loved it toward the end, and how I kind of missed showing up to set and putting on that wild costume and preparing a new song and working with the choreographers — all the behind the scenes stuff, everything that makes that show possible. I really grew close to these people over the weeks, because it was just such a unique experience.
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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?