Orca might sing for a living but he was terrified to do The Masked Singer
"I was freaked out to do the show because it's a singing competition, you know? Yes, I do make my living as a singer, but I was terrified," the celebrity under the Orca mask tells EW.
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's episode of The Masked Singer.
The Orca has migrated to calmer waters.
The shiny marine mammal — and first-ever Masked Singer wildcard! — was unmasked Wednesday night to reveal Sugar Ray rocker Mark McGrath. Here, McGrath opens up about why he was hesitant to be a wildcard, his kids' unfiltered reaction to the Orca, and his surprising (and emotional) takeaways from the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, did they tell you you were going to be a wildcard when you first signed on to do the show?
MARK MCGRATH: Of course not! Information on The Masked Singer is on a need-to-know basis whether you're performing or a judge, it doesn't matter. To me, being a wildcard means you have a giant bullseye on your back because the other contestants are going to hear a wildcard — at least I would in my brain — and think, "Oh, who's this, some kind of ringer?" I was used to the format of the three groups, A, B, and C, so in my mind, I thought that's what we were going to be doing. So at first, I was a little freaked out, because to be honest with you, I was freaked out to do the show because it's a singing competition, you know? Yes, I do make my living as a singer, but I was terrified to do the show to begin with. Then to have sort of a bullseye in the back as a wildcard, that was the thing I had to rectify in my mind.
But when I went out and saw the production [for my first performance], they had this sort of 1930s old Hollywood, old school production with all the dancers and they had an anchor coming down from the ceiling. I thought, "Oh my God, I think I can do this wildcard stuff." They gave me a lot of production to really justify being the wildcard, so it worked out. But it was interesting because I came in later in the show, I don't know if I would have done a ballad second if I had known the wildcard format was in play from the beginning. I probably would have done another up-tempo song because that was what I thought would at least get me along [further]. But there's no way I was ever gonna win a singing competition. LeAnn Rimes, Wayne Brady, the people that win these, they're unbelievable.
So at what point did you find out you were a wildcard?
When I was walking to my first rehearsal with the costume on. [The producers were] like, "Oh yeah, you're gonna be a wildcard. We have to change the format up. It's what we do. Every season we need to spice things up." Like I said, they keep it moving. They don't really give you a chance to ask too many questions. But look, the production they gave me was so great my 10-year-old son could have gone out there and delivered "We're Not Going to Take It." The show just wants to make you look good. I think they probably knew I would have been concerned about being a wildcard because they knew my considerations about being in a singing competition. So they just gave me a production that was over the top. It was unbelievable. It ended up being something I was dreading, being a wildcard, and then I ended up embracing it.
During tonight's episode, you mentioned your kids not having any clue you were doing the show. Were you and your family fans of The Masked Singer before doing this?
Oh, yeah. I mean, that's one of the many variables of why I decided to do this show, was to blow my kids away. Yeah, they still don't know. I've been able to keep it from them all this time. It's funny, too. They're almost 11, so they're getting to the point where Mom and Dad aren't that cool. It's happening a lot earlier these days, it used to be teenagers, but now at 11 or 12, you're not cool anymore. And so Orca came out [on the show]. And my son goes, "Orca is kind of cool, dad." I'm like, "He's all right." So I thought that was great. So their minds are gonna be blown to bits when they see it tonight. It'll be fun.
In recent years there've been reports of you dealing with hearing loss. Did that impact your experience on the show at all?
The hearing loss thing I kind of have to qualify every now and then. I was doing a red carpet once. And people were yelling out questions to me, and there was somebody in the back that I couldn't really hear. I couldn't hear the question, and I just said, "I'm going deaf in my ear, I've been doing rock and roll for 30 years." I was kind of throwing it away as an aside. And then he asked the question, I answered the question, and that was it. The next day like in the Daily Mirror or something, it was like, "Mark McGrath is losing his hearing." It was so awkward. I mean, I've got a little bit of degenerative hearing loss that you get as you get older, you know, and I've got a little more in one ear because of the band. It's not anything that impairs me from doing anything. So I feel kind of bad that that's out there because a lot of people like Huey Lewis are really kind of suffering from this thing. So it's not something that was ever a concern of mine being in the costume. They use in-ear pieces while you're performing so you actually have little pods so you can hear the music inside. And whoever the engineers are on that show, I want to shake their hands and thank them because I can't believe it. I thought maybe they pre-taped it and then you go out and kind of lip sync in the costume, but it's completely live. And they get some wonderful sound. So they've got real pros working the mics and working in the sound department. It was never a problem at all.
So your son thought the Orca was cool, but what did you think of the costume?
Obviously when you hear you're gonna be on the show, you're like, "Oh my god, what is my costume?" You have some anxiety about it. The first thing they showed me was Orca. And my heart just went, "Yes." Because I'm a Pisces, you know? I grew up in Newport Beach, California. I feel comfortable around the ocean. Yes, that's one hurdle down. I was a little worried that the costume could be this gigantic, cumbersome thing. And then they showed the articulation of what it would be and I'm like, "Oh my God, that's perfect." I could kind of move my arms and legs. I kind of looked like Evil Knievel wearing a whale head and a tail, kind of like a superhero whale. Then when I went and tried the costume on, I could move, I could breathe, any considerations one might have when deciding to do this show were completely alleviated. I wasn't someone that needed to be out of their costume every five minutes, or add air or something like that. I felt completely at home in the costume. In fact, I also felt an emotional connection to Orca. When I took his head off for the last time, I felt sad because I was like essentially killing Orca. He was this living, breathing thing and now he's gonna be a set piece thing that doesn't live anymore and I felt like I let it down. You get really close to the mask. It's bizarre.
What did you take away from this experience?
I took away so much more than I ever thought I would by getting in a mask and costume and singing a couple of '80s heavy metal songs. I wasn't there that long, but I feel like I'm part of The Masked Singer family forever. I made relationships so quickly with the vocal coaches, with the audio guys, with the production team, with the staff. I mean they ingratiate you so quickly, they make you feel so warm and welcome. I would encourage anybody who is ever lucky enough to get the opportunity, to jump on this thing. Also, I'm taking a professional part away. I'm gonna start using vocal coaches with Sugar Ray. I never thought I'd say that in a million years because I thought vocal coaches are all like [imitating a vocal warm-up], "La la la la la." Vocal coaches just want to get the best out of what you have. And I learned that on The Masked Singer, so I'm gonna take that away. And personally, I'm taking away a meaningful document, if you will, about my dad, and how much he loved the twins. I've told them about my dad, they know about him, but it's really articulated in the package before I sing, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." It's beautiful, the way they put it together. And I have this document now that I can show them to let them know how much their grandpa that they never met means to them. And I never counted on that. Never.
So I think it's the emotional connection you have to the show in its entirety, that I was never counting on, and it's a beautiful, beautiful takeaway. And I think that small part of the show — it was a big part for me — but I think that is why this show is so important to everybody, to viewers. That's why it's the biggest show on TV. People really connect emotionally with these masks and costumes because the people inside them do, it's impossible not to, and then on top of it all you get to hear some singing. But the singing is almost secondary to the characters at this point, you know.
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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?