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‘The Masked Dancer’ Will Let Judges Hear Contestants’ Voices So It’s Not All Totally Impossible

”There was a big debate if we should do this in the game, because it really does give away a lot when you hear someone talk,“ executive producer Craig Plestis tells TheWrap

While “The Masked Dancer” started out as a parody of “The Masked Singer” on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Fox found a way to turn the joke into an actual series that shouldn’t be a totally impossible guessing game for its panelists and viewers at home, in part because of one specific addition to the format: the reveal of contestants’ speaking voices.

And Craig Plestis, executive producer of both “The Masked Singer” and its spinoff series, knows this clue, dubbed “Word Up,” is a huge one.

“So on ‘Word Up,’ there was a big debate if we should do this in the game, because it really does give away a lot when you hear someone talk,” Plestis told TheWrap Wednesday following a virtual panel for “The Masked Dancer” ahead of its January premiere. “So what they do is they actually give a word — some people did a little bit more than that later in the show — but for the first one, it’s just one word. But that was a big clue.”

“The Masked Dancer” panelists include “The Masked Singer” judge Ken Jeong, Paula Abdul, Brian Austin Green (a former “Singer” contestant) and Ashley Tisdale, with Craig Robinson acting as host. Plestis said giving panelists the chance to hear contestants speak — something that’s never been done on “Dancer’s” parent series — was really a game-changer for what would otherwise be a much, much more difficult game.

“There’s an instance where everyone thought, ‘Oh, that’s a young person’ or whatever, and then they heard them speak and it changed their opinion completely as to who that person was,” Plestis said. “And there were a couple times that, literally from hearing their voice in just that one word, it honed it down to who that person was for the panel. So it’s a big, big clue that we’ve never done before in the ‘Masked’ series. And I’m glad we did it because it just opened up conversations beyond belief for the panel.”

Plestis says even without “Word Up,” “Masked Dancer” was actually easier to pull off than you might think.

“The proof was in the pudding there, because when we watched it [on ‘Ellen’], they actually guessed the people a couple of times just from watching their dance routines,” he said. “And we’re going like, ‘OK, this is kind of like a beta test. It does work just by watching them. Ellen already did it.’ They were playing the game for real on her show. So that was a plus on our side.”

It also helped to have the iconic Abdul on the panel, as Plestis says there was “no one better” at figuring out the masked dancers’ true identities.

“Paula, when she watched one of the singers from ‘Singer,’ before they even sang, they were walking out on stage and she goes, ‘Pause. I know who that is. I can tell by their walk, before they even do any other physical movement, I know who that person is.’ And I go, ‘No you don’t.’ And she guessed the name of the person. And that was before we even filmed [‘The Masked Dancer’].”

Plestis, “Masked Dancer” showrunner James Breen and their team gave the judges several other clues to help piece together the body-language puzzle, including hints in the choreography and stage settings.

“I thought we were going to make it way too easy for everyone. And sometimes maybe we did make it a little too easy for them to play along,” Plestis said. “But it’s great, because the play-along was so much fun to watch. Especially on the first day of taping, because we go, ‘OK, it’s working.'”

“The Masked Dancer” premieres Sunday, Dec. 27 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT after an NFL doubleheader on Fox.