LOS ANGELES – When fans approached Ricki Lake and asked if she was one of the mystery singers on “The Masked Singer,” she just lied and pretended she didn’t know what they were talking about.
“I am the worst liar,” the Emmy-winning talk show host admits. “But I’m happy to be done because I was in such pain at the end.”
Suffering from sciatica, Lake says her elaborate Raven costume made it difficult to move. Even worse, she couldn’t talk to anyone on the set during filming. She – like the other contestants – was sequestered in her dressing room for the better part of a day and told she couldn’t leave without the costume. Drivers would pick her up from home, where she donned a hood that wouldn’t be removed until she got to her trailer.
“It was hot,” she says of the disguises. “I didn’t have anyone accompanying me. I was alone and there was really little interaction – only on show day – when I would maybe see the Bee from far away.”
Those who attended the tapings were told they couldn’t tweet or talk about it until the day after it aired. “We did try every kind of piece of lawyer paper possible,” says Producer Craig Plestis, “but we asked them to join us in keeping it secret.” Because the series has been such a family favorite, those involved wanted to keep from spoiling the reveals.
Renewed for a second season, “The Masked Singer” will have a higher level of security to ensure no one ruins the fun, producers say.
Lake, meanwhile, would like to be part of the judging panel because she enjoys guessing games: “Right now, the climate we’re in, we need shows like this, as innocuous as it may be.”
When she was approached about being one of the celebrity performers, the “Hairspray” star hesitated. She wasn’t sure she knew what it was going to be or how it would be received.
But Deena Katz, the show’s casting director, proved persuasive. “She cast me on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and I had turned down that series nine seasons in a row. When I finally said yes to that, she said, ‘Trust me,’ and I did. When she came with this, she said, ‘I really think you should look at this. It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s going to be a huge hit.’”
Because it involved a level of anonymity, Lake thought it could be interesting.
Truth be told, it was also less stressful than “Dancing with the Stars.” “This is a million times easier,” Lake says with a smile. “That I worked on three-and-a-half months, every single day of the week. That was a lot of work.”
Because “Masked Singer” is basically a mystery with vocals, it didn’t require a lot of preparation. “I wasn’t the best singer. I wasn’t the worst,” Lake says. While one of the judges suggested her voice was “untrained,” the actress insists she studied for 10 years and had perfect pitch. “It was fun to sing again and have this level of production value.”
The appearance also gave her a chance to talk about her late husband and pay honor to him.
While Lake was eager to sing “You Will Be Found,” from “Dear Evan Hansen,” producers weren’t able to get the rights because they couldn’t tell the copyright holders who was going to be singing it.
To prep, she worked with a vocal coach at her home.
She got to pick her songs and now admits, “I had a lot of nerve singing a Lady Gaga song. It was like the best high-end karaoke thing ever.”
Judge Robin Thicke was able to guess her identity, thanks to a gesture she made. A fan of her talk show, he recognized her when she put her hand on her heart – a signature move.
“I forgot that my show was such a phenomenon back in the day,” she says. That he was watching “is just surreal. I’ve been in this business 30-plus years since ‘Hairspray’ and it’s just nice to still be welcomed back with open arms.”
Now producing documentaries, the 50-year-old Lake says she saw the show as a way to shine a light on her current work.
“A lot of the clues were about my beloved, my husband who had passed away,” she says. “I thought they were a dead giveaway. The hardest part has been keeping my mouth shut on Instagram. Everyone is like, ‘Hi, Raven,’ ‘Hi, Raven,’ ‘Hi, Raven.’ And I pride myself on my authenticity and being truthful, so it’s been really hard to keep it quiet.”