‘Masked Singer’ Season 8 premiere unmasks two comedy legends

The Knight and Hedgehog are the first reveals on 'The Masked Singer'  Season 8. (Photos: Fox)

The Knight and Hedgehog are the first reveals on ‘The Masked Singer’ Season 8. (Photos: Fox)

Presumably attempting to rebound from last season’s disastrous stunt casting of Rudy Guiliani, The Masked Singer is pulling out all the stops for Season 8, with each week featuring a double reveal. And this week was a real double-doozy, as two legends — William “The Knight” Shatner and Eric “The Hedgehog” Idle — were amusingly unmasked. There were perhaps never two celebrities more perfect for this show than the campy Star Trek icon and the Monty Python comedy pioneer. In fact, the absurdist Idle even quipped, “This is one of the more normal things I’ve ever done!”

“I can’t believe it’s taken me eight seasons to be on The Masked Singer,” the Knight declared during his own clues package, his Captain Kirk drawl completely identifiable even with the show’s electronic disguising effects on his voice. And he had a point. The Golden Throats warbler has seemingly been preparing for this big moment ever since 1968, when he released his cult classic album The Transformed Man featuring covers of Bob Dylan and Beatles songs, and he has since lent his odd, slightly off cadence to collaborations with Ben Folds, Joe Jackson, Aimee Mann, Henry Rollins, Brad Paisley, Iggy Pop, Sheryl Crow, Peter Frampton, Steve Miller, and Bootsy Collins. The Knight was the role Shatner was Born to play!

After the Knight spoke/sang his way through a super-duper (and super-weird) cover of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” that would make Taco himself proud, the judges made all sorts of dumb guesses, like John Lithgow, David Hasselhoff , and “Weird Al” Yankovic — although, to be fair, those latter two also should have been on The Masked Singer a long, long time ago. Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg initially described the Knight as a “male version of Betty White,” but she eventually guessed correctly; Robin Thicke didn’t, even though Shatner and Robin’s dad Alan Thicke were friends for years. Nicole Scherzinger simply shrugged, “I don’t even know what’s going on right now, but I am TIMES for it!”

I was here for it too. I really wish Shatner hadn’t been beamed up so soon; he could have at least stuck around long enough to reprise his famous cover of Pulp’s “Common People”! But Shatner seemed fine with his early exit. When host Nick Cannon asked him about his Masked Singer experience, he groaned, “It was horrible. I can’t tell you how horrible it was. I couldn’t see anything. I can’t walk. The noise was deafening. The mask was obliterating. Oh, was that fun!”

Eric Idle was also a ton of fun, in his own way. The Monty Python genius actually took on a Beatles song, “Love Me Do,” complete with a drumline parade — a fab choice, given his many Fab Four connections, like his Rutles mockumentary and his deep friendship with George Harrison. Ken Jeong even guessed that the Hedgehog was Ringo Starr! Eric later told the backstory behind his song selection: “I wanted to sing this song because it’s Paul McCartney’s first song he ever wrote. And so I wrote to him and asked him if I could do it. I had a letter back saying, ‘ Yes, you can do the song, but would you please tell me what show it is, so I can make sure to avoid it?'”

This time, Robin recognized Eric’s voice straight away, because he grew up watching Monty Python with his father and now watches with his own tween-age son. “I’ve seen everyone Monty Python movie,” Robin said. “I’m a huge fan, and I know your voice like the back of my hand.” Idle then treated Robin and all the other Python fans in the audience to a whole-hog rendition of the Life of Brian classic “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Aw. I’m also sad to see Idle go so soon, but I’m hoping for some sort of Rutles reunion on the Season 8 finale — even if Paul McCartney won’t watch.

As for the two celebrities whose identities still remained under wraps Wednesday, we’ll soon know who the Hummingbird is, because he was cliffhangingly eliminated during the premiere’s closing credits — and he will be unmasked at the top of next week’s episode! He said he’s “dominated the Super Bowl,” “competition is in his DNA,” he cherishes his many silver awards, and he’s got some sort of “patriotic” connection to Shaquille O’Neal, but he also did a pretty solid job singing Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be.” So, the judges’ guesses were all over the place, ranging from athletes like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Deon Thomas to AOR/MOR rockers like Rob Thomas, Uncle Kracker, and Chad Kroeger. Judging from this clip of Peyton singing, I sincerely doubt he can even hum well enough to pass as the Hummingbird. So, I’m just going to guess New England Patriot and Shaq pal Tim Tebow, and move on to this week’s reigning queen, the Harp — because (Ken Jeong voice) I know exactly who she is

The Harp delivered a majestic and near-perfect performance of Pink’s “Perfect” that gave Jenny “Season 8 chills” and had Nicole raving, “You were beyond powerful. … I was in awe.” It was definitely the work of a consummate professional — someone like Queen Latifah, Jordin Sparks, Fantasia, or Jennifer Hudson, who were among the judges’ guesses. But I say this was definitely the work of Glee star Amber Riley.

Besides the power vocals that were recognizable practically from the moment the Harp opened her own golden throat during the a cappella first verse, all her clues Glee-fully added up. She described herself as an “idol for anyone who felt like an outsider,” which was on-brand with the Glee ethos. Her clues package began with her saying, “And I am telling you,” and Amber was in Dreamgirls. We saw a witch’s hat, and Amber played the Good Witch of the North in NBC’s The Wiz and performed in Wicked in Concert. We saw a pair of 3D glasses, which was probably a reference to the concert movie Glee in 3D. She mentioned winning awards for acting, singing, and comedy — the latter honor shared with her “besties” — and Amber has picked up the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical, the Evening Standard Theater Award for Best Musical Performance, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (for Gleeof course).

But perhaps the most notable tip-off was when the Harp confessed that when she was a teenager, she auditioned for “the biggest show in the world” but “didn’t fit the mold and was turned down.” Well, Amber tried out for American Idol at age 17, but she didn’t even make it past the producers. “You know what? I still work on Fox and I get paid! thank you American Idol,” she later gloated to Access Hollywood. And now Amber is back on Fox, and she didn’t just make it past her Masked Singer audition, but she might actually win this time. “See you at the finale,” Jenny told her.

And I’ll see you next week, when the Hummingbird is unmasked and four more celebrities show up to almost literally sing their faces off. Additionally, throughout Season 8, alumni from the show — like Donny “The Peacock” Osmond, Tori “The Unicorn” Spelling, and Drew “The Llama” Carey — will serve as guest judges, and other scheduled guests include Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sheila E., Lance Bass… and even the Muppets, for a special theme night. This season will actually feature several themed episodes, like “Comedy Roast” (man, Shatner and Idle would have been perfect for that!), “Vegas Night,” “Hall of Fame,” “TV Themes,” “’90s Night,” and “Fright Night.” Obviously, The Masked Singer is still the show that keeps America guessing.

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