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Clark High School grad knows the secret identities on ‘The Masked Singer’

January 8, 2019

Yes, Michael Schwandt knows which celebrities lurk beneath the elaborate get-ups in Fox’s oddball new series “The Masked Singer.”

No, he won’t reveal who they are.

Keeping the secret is part of his work as the show’s creative producer, the Clark High School alum said in a telephone interview.

In the series, which airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox (it debuted last week) and was adapted from a South Korean show, 12 celebrities disguised head-to-toe as fanciful creatures such as a peacock, a one-eyed monster and a unicorn take part in a sort-of singing competition. Host Nick Cannon noted in the first episode that it’s “not a whodunnit; it’s a who sung it?”

Each week, the stars are pitted against each other in a series of production numbers, and a panel of judges tries to figure out who the masked celebs are. At the end of each episode, the competitor scored lowest by the judges is kicked off, removing their mask to reveal who they are right before the credits roll.

In the opening moments of the first episode, one competitor is shown dressed in a hooded, masked black outfit with “Don’t talk to me” written on the front.

Only a handful of people who worked behind the scenes on the show knew the identity of the competitors before the big reveal on camera, said Schwandt, 39.

“No one else, not even the performers, knew who they were working with,” he said.

He had to know who they were because he developed those production numbers.

“Basically, I conceptualized every performance,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s a combination of kind of ascertaining what story we wanted to tell with the costumes and what story we want to tell with the character, but also what story that performer was wanting to tell on a personal note.”

His job on the show included hiring and overseeing a team of choreographers who worked with the celebrities and the 58 dancers who appear onstage with them. Whenever the stars were backstage or on the set, their identity was obscured by either that all-black outfit or by the costumes they wore on camera.

The costumes dictated a lot of the choreography, Schwandt said. Some ensembles severely limited the mobility and vision of the person inside, and that had to be taken into account. The comfort of the performer was a key issue, too.

“If you’ve not performed in heavy costumery before, that can also affect your delivery,” he said. “If you’re not used to the weight (of the costume) and whether your can move your neck, that affects everything.”

As the show went on, he said, he and his team got a better sense of how the costumes worked, which gave them more freedom in terms of choreography.

The biggest challenge of the whole enterprise was the speed required, he said.

“We had a very short turn-around time on all the episodes, so we had to create quickly,” he said. “We worked a lot faster than I normally would on a project.”

Television credits listed on Schwandt’s website include stints with “American Idol,” “Dancing Fools” and the Vietnamese edition of “So You Think You Can Dance,” as well as a slew of live events, including working as a choreographer and stage director for Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants.

There is no word on whether a second season for “The Masked Singer” is likely. Schwandt said he would be game to work on it if it materializes.

He posted about the show on his Facebook page, and a group of his high school friends watched and commented live during the debut broadcast.

“There’s definitely still a connection with the people that I went to school with,” he said. “There were so many wonderful social media posts from old high school friends. That was really great.”

Deborah Martin is an arts writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | dlmartin@express-news.net | Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN

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