And the winner of 'The Masked Singer' Season 7 is…

·6 min read

It was a “battle of the babes” on Wednesday’s Masked Singer Season 7 finale, when — after the Prince was eliminated in third place — it all came down to the femme fatale the Firefly and “little pop star” the Ringmaster.

It was actually a slight shock that the Prince didn’t reign supreme in the end, given his track record. After all, this was the guy who beat out Season 7’s two biggest pop stars, Shaggy and En Vogue, and at one point, judge Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg predicted he’d beat everyone to win the Golden Mask trophy. But his finale performance of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” a song choice seemingly fit for royalty, just wasn’t quite as majestic as expected.

The judges thought this elegant amphibian might be Ben Platt, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, or Matt Bomer, but only Nicole “Sherlock Scherzy” Scherzinger sleuthed out the clues and correctly deduced that this was theater sensation Cheyenne Jackson. Not to brag, but I figured that out a few weeks ago. We saw the planet Mars, and Cheyenne appeared on the TV show Life on Mars. We saw the price tag $20.06 and an airplane, and Cheyenne had a career breakthrough in 2006 when he appeared in the Oscar-nominated movie United 93. We saw a diamond ring, and Cheyenne played Johnny Diamond on American Housewife. We saw a wristwatch, and Cheyenne acted in three episodes of Watchmen. Another visual clue was Carnegie Hall, and Cheyenne has sold out that prestigious venue twice. The Prince also mentioned living in a “small pond,” and Cheyenne grew up in Oldtown, Idaho, which has a population of less than 500. And finally, the Prince received a good-luck video message this season from his friend Jamie Lee Curtis, with whom Cheyenne just finished shooting the film Borderlands.

I suspect that Nicole, who has a great guessing track record, actually knew it was Cheyenne all along, but kept mum in order to maintain some Season 7 suspense. It's understandable, however, that most laypeople would not recognize his voice — which is why Cheyenne went on The Masked Singer in the first place. "That's really kind of why I wanted to do this," he explained. "I started out in music. I've done nine Broadway shows. And then once you start getting into television, people start to only know you for one thing. It bugs my mom the most — she's like, 'Singing's your main thing!'" So, Cheyenne did his mom proud this season, even if he didn't win.

If Wednesday’s finale result had been determined solely by the Firefly and Ringmaster’s first performances, I believe the Ringmaster would have been the last mask standing. Firefly’s seductive cover of Usher’s “Bad Girl” may have been the sexiest and sultriest performance in Masked Singer history, as she slinked around in that pouty blow-up-doll mask and Catwoman/Madonna-circa-“Human Nature” latex bodysuit, and got all up-close-and-personal at the judges’ desk — but the Ringmaster’s epic, operatic take on Sara Bareilles’s weeper “Gravity” had judge Robin Thicke rightfully calling her a “revelation.” Luckily for Firefly, however, her fire wasn’t snuffed out quite yet, because these final two cosplaying contestants each got more turn at the mic.

Ringmaster’s “Waking Up in Vegas” was a three-ring affair, a Vegas-worthy spectacle — a “star-making” performance, according to Ken Jeong. But then the Firefly went inward, deep beneath her glittery mask, for her own surprisingly sweet and subtle take on Robin’s romantic hit “Lost Without U.” The Masked Singeris usually a wild and wacky affair, but every so often there is a breakthrough moment — and the Firefly orchestrated hers at just the right moment, which ultimately led to her Season 7 victory. “You saved the best for last,” Ken told her. Robin admitted he was “flattered and choked-up” by Firefly’s interpretation of his soul ballad, and host Nick Cannon could detect that the Firefly herself was weeping within her pleather armor. Nicole praised her for being “so open and so vulnerable” and said, “I feel like you really revealed yourself.”

But before the Firefly could literally reveal herself, it was time for runner-up the Ringmaster’s unmasking. The judges, perhaps focusing way too much on that visual clue of icy hail, guessed this was Hailee Steinfeld, Lucy Hale, or (in a bit of a phonetic stretch) Hayden Panettiere. Robin focused on the terrific twangy vocals and guessed it was Maren Morris. But I figured out weeks ago that the Ringmaster had to be The Goldbergs actress and country crooner Hayley Orrantia. All of the past clues — starting with a “Golden State” driver’s license, a reference to Hayley’s long-running sitcom — added up. The Ringmaster had said she’s a “’90s chick,” and Hayley was born in 1994. One visual clue had been Miley Cyrus’s face on a Montana map, and Hayley sang background vocals on the Hannah Montana Forever soundtrack. A bottle of Sweet Southern whiskey was clearly a reference to Hayley’s 2016 single “Strong, Sweet & Southern.” And John Oates’s good-luck video message was a big tip-off, since the Hall & Oates legend is Hayley’s pal and a past Goldbergs guest star.

But not even Sherlock Scherzy sussed this one out, even though Hayley had competed (as a member of the country girl group Lakoda Rayne) on The X Factor USA in 2011, on which Nicole had been a judge. Nicole seemed genuinely shocked when Hayley reintroduced herself (I don’t think Nicole was putting on an act this time), but then Nicole claimed to vaguely remember the former girl group singer, telling Hayley, “Seriously, you are your own powerhouse.” And while Hayley didn't win, Season 7 she achieved the same goal that Cheyenne had, explaining: "Honestly, I have loved music my entire life, and I ended up becoming more known through working on The Goldbergs as an actress. But you have no idea how much it means to me to be able to do what I love in front of you all."

And then, finally, the Firefly unmasked herself and unleashed her power, and she was — as Robin, Jenny, and I suspected from the many Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Apollo Theater, Tyler Perry, basketball, and dancing clues — R&B star and professional dancer Teyana Taylor. “I’m still crying!” Teyana proclaimed as she cradled her Golden Mask trophy, which she can now display on her mantel next to her husband Iman Shumpert's Dancing With the Stars newly acquired, mirror-ball award. "Aw man, I was like, this would be something really nice to do, to just be able to just sing, and it'd be fun again, and there's just no judgment, you know? Nobody knows who's behind the mask. You just get to sing your heart out."

The Masked Singer has already been renewed for an eighth season, and while Season 7 featured some questionable castings — like celebrity pastry chef Duff Goldman and, um, Rudy Giuliani (Fox TV executive Rob Wade recently claimed to have “absolutely no regrets” about the latter stunt, even though Giuliani’s reveal episode was the series’ lowest-rated ever) — I’m looking forward to the guessing game starting up again in the fall. Maybe that will be the season that Bjork finally shows up. See you then.

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