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Knight Talks ‘Masked Singer’ Exit, Calls Costume ‘Murderous’ & Stands By ‘Signature’ Delivery

Billboard 9/22/2022 Gil Kaufman
© Michael Becker/FOX

Spoiler alert: This story contains information about contestants eliminated on Wednesday’s (Sept. 21) episode of The Masked Singer.

Not everyone who appears on The Masked Singer is known for their vocal chops. In fact, the hit costumed Fox reality singing program is well-known for throwing some decidedly vocally challenged ringers onto the stage. Which is why Wednesday night’s season 8 premiere was a classic mix of perfect ‘fits and puttin’ on the ritz.

As part of the new format, in which only one contestant moves on from each episode, the “Royal” season opener kicked off with the Harp, who regally romped through P!nk’s “Perfect,” followed by the Hedgehog, who amiably kicked up his pads to The Beatles’ “Love Me Do.”

The brilliantly colored Hummingbird did a decent job on Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be,” but it was the salty Knight who really got the judging panel — Robin Thicke, Jenny McCarthy Wahlberg, Ken Jeong and Nicole Scherzinger — out of their seats, thanks to his royally weird antics.

While it’s sometimes hard to suss out who’s under the elaborate get-ups, anyone who has watched TV or been to a movie theater in the past 50-odd years would know immediately who the man was behind the warbly, more-spoken-than-sung rendition of Fred Astaire‘s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Riding a golden goose and barely moving around onstage, the armor-clad crooner joked that he’d been holding out for the hosting gig, said he had worked in TV and movies — as well as with Star Wars‘ George Lucas — and was featured on multiple walks of fame. Oh, and he’s released albums, though you might wonder where in the universe that was based on his unique vocal delivery.

Could… it… be… why, of course, it was 91-year-old Star Trek legend William Shatner, renowned for his halting, actorly takes on such rock classics as “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Rocket Man,” not to mention a No. 1 album on Billboard’s Blues Albums chart with 2020’s The Blues and a No. 16 spot on the Top Holiday Albums chart in 2018 with Shatner Clause: The Christmas Album. While the judges guessed everyone from Warren Beatty to a “male version of Betty White,” Jerry Springer and still-always-wrong Jeong’s sure bet that it was fellow uber-thespian David Hasselhoff, in the end it was William Shatner (aka Star Trek‘s Captain James T. Kirk) under that unwieldy helmet.

The other eliminated contestant, Hedgehog, was revealed to be Monty Python legend Eric Idle.

The always-busy Shatner — who fervently plugged new episodes of The UnXplained on the History Channel beginning on Oct. 7 as he works on a new autobiographical documentary with Legion M, a line of Shatner NFTs in collaboration with Orange Comet due in November, and the upcoming memoir Boldly Go — teleported in before his elimination to talk to Billboard about his vocal chops, the warning he got from a previous Masked contestant and why he kept trying to pick a fight with host Nick Cannon.

Check out our chat below:

I’m always curious why people pick the costumes they do. So what was the thinking behind the Knight and what was it like in there?

I don’t know if logic enters into it at all, but perhaps silly is the apt word. In the past they’ve asked me [to appear on the show] and this time knowing I had a lot of things coming up I wanted to do it to publicize [those projects], plus it’s a very popular show, so how could I deny that? 

It seemed like you had a bit of trouble moving around in that get-up.

I believe that if you had been an Olympic athlete in your prime of your life and you put on that costume you would have been as sore and as awkward as I was! It was murderous! I know an athlete who was on the show and he said it was the worst thing that ever happened to hm. I’ve had worse things happen. I almost drowned one time and I came off a horse that dragged me, that was worse. The fun of the show for the people who watch is this wardrobe that you put on, this incredibly awkward, lethal costume which in my case I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t breathe. And my breath fogged up my mask. It was a testament to my strength, ingenuity and perseverance.

That sounds very Star Trek-y…

See? It all combines. It all vibrates together! Which is the subject of my book, Boldly Go.

Why the Fred Astaire song?

First of all, because it’s a nifty song. The rhyme and the syncopation… it’s a really clever song and I really enjoyed learning to do it. There I was doing Fred Astaire, thinking, “this is pretty cool.” Then I put the wardrobe on and I can’t move, and I can’t see, so everything I had planned performance-wise went out the window. If I could have crossed my fingers I would have.

Why do this show now? Did you watch it before?

I caught glimpses of it. As I say, this friend of mine who was on the show when they asked me to be on it I talked him and I said, “how did it go?” And he said, “The worst thing I ever did. The worst experience I’ve ever had.”

So of course you were like, “I’m in!”

Well, what does he know? He’s an athlete, he’s not a performer.

With great respect, I will say you are known for… let’s call it your unique vocal delivery. And it didn’t seem like you tried to mask it at all on the show.

It’s my signature. That’s what the number lends itself to — that patter — and the lyric is clever enough to warrant listening to.

You’ve done it before on “Lucy” and “Rocket Man,” so I’m curious where that signature talky singing style comes from? It almost feels like an extension of Captain Kirk in a way.

Well, it’s not Captain Kirk, but it’s poetic I hope. I can’t sing and I love music and yearn to make music. Even on Billboard, my Christmas album went No. 1 [No. 18, but who are we to argue with Lt. Kirk?], my blues album went No. 1. I’ve begun to get an idea of how to do it. It started slow over the years and I’ve gotten more knowledgable and had some success doing it. The coincidence of Ben Folds, with whom I made an [2004] album called Has Been, which was very successful and then the non-coincidence — which is what Boldly Go, the book, is about — is that Ben Folds ends up to be the artistic director of the Kennedy Center. And he invited me to perform and I had all these songs I’d written with Robert Sharenow for an album called Bill… we had these 20 songs ready to go, so Ben asked me, “would you like to do them at Kennedy Center?” [An audio and video performance from April 2022 with the National Symphony Orchestra with Folds will be released later this year.]

Nicole said your performance was “a vibe” and she said she wanted to squeeze your thighs. How did that make you feel?

Squeeze my thighs? I thought she said she was “full of sighs.” Well, I don’t know why she didn’t offer to, I needed squeezing at various points during these last few weeks.

Why did you keep attacking Nick Cannon? Was that planned?

He’s just very attackable!

Were you offended by the Betty White comparison?

Well, she’s dead!

But she lived to be 99, that’s not too shabby.

But she’s dead!

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