SPOILER ALERT: This story contains the identity of the contestant eliminated on Wednesday night’s (Dec. 13) episode of The Masked Singer.
Anteater isn’t gonna lie: His super-awkward costume on The Masked Singer was cumbersome and, frankly, pretty ugly. But the dulcet-voiced veteran singer charmed the judges with his Battle run through Justin Timberlake’s Trolls hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling!,” a Philly soul take on the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” and an energetic Smackdown cover of Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” His gritty ramble through one of his favorite songs, Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” cemented early on that this was definitely an A-lister, which might explain the top-shelf guesses.
Robin Thicke was pretty sure it was Jackson Browne or Paul Simon, while Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg was thinking it was either Bob Seger, E Street Band guitarist “Little” Steven Van Zandt or Willie Nelson, and Nicole Scherzinger guessed John Cougar Mellencamp or Bryan Adams. Always-wrong Ken Jeong, as usual, was way off, guessing ’80s pop heartthrob Rick Springfield.
After self-described leftie “short king” Anteater’s final high-energy rip through his childhood favorite, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” on Wednesday’s show, the cat, or ant, was out of the bag. The man behind the long snout was none other than mustachioed Hall & Oates member John Oates; also eliminated on Wednesday night’s season 10 Group C finals was Candelabra (Keyshia Cole), with Donut advancing to next week’s final against Cow, Gazelle and Sea Queen.
Billboard spoke with Oates, 75, before his elimination to find out how he chose the costume, why his intense cardio helped him survive the costume and whether the show has been a welcome distraction from the Hall & Oates lawsuit headlines.
Who came to you with the offer to be on the show? Were you already watching it?
I found out about it through my PR and social media team. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t aware of the show until I did a guest spot on The Goldbergs and [star] Hayley [Orrantia] reached out to me to say I was going to be a clue on The Masked Singer [when she was the Ringmaster in season 7]. I had no idea what she was talking about and then I started watching and said, “Wow!” That was my introduction to the show. I kind of followed it and then when it was a good time for me in between tours … I’m always up for something new and I realized how massive the reach of the show is. Here was a chance to talk to folks like you about my new music coming out in the spring, my single out next week and the charity work I’m doing with Feeding America and Movember.
I’m not gonna lie, John, Anteater is probably the ugliest costume to date so far. Why did you pick that one?
Thank you. That’s what we were going for. I have to be honest, I didn’t like the costume when they showed me the rendering. “Why that?” Then I thought maybe it was a subtle connection between [Hall & Oates’ 1982 hit] “Man Eater” and Anteater, which I thought might be a subtle clue without being a clue. At a certain point they convinced me it’s cool, but I’m still not sure it’s true.
The arms were so long you couldn’t even hold the mic!
I had what I call a “Madonna mic,” the Janet Jackson mic that goes around your ear. The weird thing is I could only flap my arms up and down and it also had gigantic shoes that had a pair of sneakers inside the giant boots. I had to put my foot into the giant boot, so I could barely walk and I couldn’t see.
You’re 75 years old, but you had so much of what the kids calls “rizz” onstage. How did you keep your wind up in that cumbersome costume?
It got challenging near the end, especially during the Smackdown performance, and then I had to sing it again. I ride my bicycle, cross-country ski and hike — so for my age, I’m in really, really good shape. The hardest thing for me was I couldn’t see because they had choreography for me and I had to count out the steps and sing at the same time. I should have gotten a freakin’ medal for that!
You seemed to really get out of your traditional lane with Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” and the Smackdown with “Mickey.” Were you excited to explore some different genres?
The “Mickey” one was too weird. But it’s fun and it’s crazy. I don’t mind being thrown into a situation like that and being on a tightrope. I’ve been singing “Johnny” since I was 6-7 years old when it first came out. It was one of the first songs I learned.
Were any of your friends or family hitting you up knowing it was you?
My wife and my team knew. When I had to go to L.A. to do the show every week for three weeks — I have a lot of friends in L.A. — I would go out to dinner with them and they’re like, “Why are you in town?” I was like, “Oh, I’m doing a TV pilot.” I would do the show all day and then hang with friends and lie to them.
In a way you’re kind of the best singer for the show since people know your vocals from songs like “She’s Gone” and “Time Won’t Pass Me By,” but you kind of slip under the radar by being able to do different styles.
That was one of the things that intrigued me and made me want to do it — the reaction to me singing without knowing my past. Daryl’s vocals are the signature of the big Hall & Oates hits, so I do fly under the radar. It was interesting to see what type of artist they thought I might be: Mellencamp, Bryan Adams, Willie Nelson… that one threw me. It was interesting to see what the reaction would be when they heard someone singing and connect their voice with the image and career without a preconceived notion of who it could be.
The guesses were definitely all over the place and, I assume, kind of flattering? Bob Seger, Wilie Nelson, Paul Simon, John Mellencamp, Bryan Adams, Billy Joel and Rick Springfield?
All people who I really respect and like.
Is this the weirdest gig you’ve ever had?
It right up there! [Laughs] Right up there with when I was inducted into the Mustache Hall of Fame and performed a Halloween show for them where everyone in the audience, including women, wore mustaches. That was weird.
You also said it’s the most fun you’ve ever had. What was so fun about it?
It was just so fun to sustain this secret over a month. During the last episode I was scheduled to play the Newport Folk Festival — talk about a conflict in styles! — so on Sunday I played a show in the afternoon, took the red-eye and then Monday I started rehearsing and doing choreography. I was wasted, really tired, and it was the last episode. When I got unmasked, I wasn’t 100% disappointed.
Are you bummed you didn’t win? Who do you think has the inside track to win?
It was OK. It was a great experience and I some fun doing it, but when it was done I was pretty happy about that.
Tell me about your “Get Your Smile On” single. It’s such a sweet, old-school soul song, but with a bit of a modern drum machine touch.
It’s a song I wrote during COVID — I wanted to write something really positive — and this is a great time to put it out, with all proceeds from the download of the song going to Teen Cancer America. It’s a good-feeling song and I recorded it all at home on Garage Band.
I know you can’t talk specifics, but has it been fun promoting this show as a distraction from the headlines you’ve been dealing with lately about the catalog dispute with Daryl [Hall]?
Any time I can talk about music and not the other stuff, that’s better.
Well, I hope that all gets resolved and we can see the two of you perform again together someday soon.
Yup, we’ll see.
The Masked Singer season 10 finale will air on Fox on Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET.