America has already embraced two Korean musical imports — attractive K-pop bands and private for-rent karaoke rooms — but now, the popularity of “The Masked Singer” has opened the door to a possible new obsession: Korean game shows. The bizarre singing competition disguises celebrities from head to toe, and their identities are only revealed when they’re voted out.
It’s the first western adaptation of the show, which goes by the name “King of Mask Singer” in South Korea, and has attracted half a billion fans worldwide. For insight into the culture that could create such an outlandish show, IndieWire turned to Sebastian Lee, a TV producer who brought “The Good Doctor” concept to America from Korea. Although he specializes in scripted television — he’s next hoping to find a network for the romantic alien drama “My Love From the Star” — Lee can’t escape the ubiquity of pop music and musical competition shows in Korea.
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“Koreans just love entertainment. Korea is obsessed with music-related movies. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ still is the No. 3 movie in Korea and so far has [earned] $80 million. And Koreans love music and dance,” said Lee. “Basically, they love music and they love competition, so a lot of shows that are popular in Korea are game shows and musical competition shows.”
Fox most likely became involved after an American celebrity created shockwaves by performing – and then unmasking himself – on “King of Mask Singer” earlier last year.
“Fox picked it up because of the ‘Deadpool’ actor, Ryan Reynolds,” said Lee. “He came to Korea to promote ‘Deadpool,’ but then he came out on ‘Masked Singer.’ That’s why a lot of people know about this show, the Korean show.”
Watch Reynolds’ performance and then the dramatic unveiling below:
“The Masked Singer” differs from “King of Mask Singer” in a few ways. In Fox’s version, three pairs of singers go head-to-head per episode, and the audience selects a loser from each match-up. The lowest-scoring of the Bottom 3 then takes off their mask before heading home. The Korean format starts off the same, but eliminates the loser from each match-up, which means that three contestants go home each episode, which means a higher turnover over the course of the season.
This also means that the Korean show has to produce disguises more frequently, which doesn’t allow for the elaborate get-ups seen on Fox’s show. “The masks are totally different,” Lee acknowledged. “The Korean ones are a little cheesier than the American ones. The American ones are very fancy.”
The changes seem to have worked. “The Masked Singer” is a hit with American audiences. Buzz helped the premiere episode to earn the biggest Live+3 ratings gains for an unscripted premiere ever, and it was the No. 1 show for the night in its second outing. With this success in mind, Lee suggested a few other Korean shows that networks might want to consider adapting for American audiences.
This show shares some of the gimmicks with “The Masked Singer” in that it involves celebrities and hidden identities. This time though, a pop star competes against non-professionals who can mimic their voice. Each of them are hidden behind a panel with a number, and the audience votes for who is the “real” singer. Sometimes the actual celebrity gets eliminated in an early round.
Lee also revealed one twist for a special episode. “One episode was really kind of inspiring at the time because it was like a memoriam for someone who passed, a musician who had passed [away],” he said. “They actually used that voice [recording] throughout the game. Someone like David Bowie or Michael Jackson.”
“Hidden Singer” has already been adapted throughout Asian and in Italy through NBC Universal. Since the company already has the rights to the show, it might just be a matter of time before NBCU brings the format to the States. Take a look:
”I Can See Your Voice”
This flips the format of “Hidden Singer” by making the competition visual and without the celebrity familiarity aspect. A group of singers will be presented to the audience, but only one is an actual singer – possibly from a different country – and the rest are amateur performers. A guest artist and a team of “SING-vestigators” will try to determine who the real singer is, and each round, the performers up for elimination will have to actually perform on the “Stage of Truth.”
”Singing the Legend”
“It’s basically someone who’s a musical legend and a judge, and then all the upcoming singers actually reimagine the legend’s song,” said Lee. “Like if Michael Jackson is alive, then Michael Jackson is the judge and then maybe Justin Bieber or the other young pop stars coming in would reimagining the Michael Jackson song. Then who can move or reach the hearts of the audience the most will get to the next round.”
The show is mostly features one legend for each episode, but in some cases, the show will present a theme, such as English pop songs below:
On this talent competition show, amateur fans of k-pop stars sing and/or dance for the audience, who vote to determine a sole winner by the end of the season. The twist is that the star themselves will watch the performance by their fan and give their opinion on how viewers should vote.
”Chef & My Fridge”
The final show Lee suggests for American adaptation isn’t a musical competition series at all, but is appropriately weird and has a celebrity aspect to it. Also known as “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator,” this show brings a celebrity’s actual refrigerator to a studio where competing chefs create dishes from the contents.
“They just kidnap the fridge, and the fridge’s owner is the judge. He judges which dish is better,” said Lee. “Sometimes there’s almost nothing in there, or just a little, but those chefs just make something out of it. That’s what’s amazing about this show. It’s crazy.”
How has Food Network not produced this yet? Just think of the trash-talk and product placement. “Chef & My Fridge” is currently available to stream on Netflix.
”The Masked Singer” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.