Harp Talks ‘Masked Singer’ Season 8 Win: ‘I Was as Surprised as Anyone When I Made It Through Every Round’
It was a wild ride on season 8 of The Masked Singer, which once again served up its patented mix of non-singing celebs (William Shatner, Jeff Dunham, Mario Cantone, Daymond John, Jerry Springer, Le’Veon Bell, George Foreman, Chris Jericho, Adam Carolla, Linda Blair, Nikki Glaser), veteran pop and R&B singers (Chris Kirkpatrick, Montell Jordan, Gloria Gaynor, Kat Graham, George Clinton and Ray Parker Jr.), as well as some actors who’ve been known to carry a tune (Eric Idle, Brady Bunch trio Christopher Knight, Barry Williams and Mike Lookinland and Joey Lawrence).
But in the end, when all the masks came off, it was seasonlong front-runner Harp who plucked her way to the winner’s circle with a commanding run that began on this season’s first episode when she turned P!nk’s “Perfect” into a soaring R&B ballad that blew the judges away. She soared with Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing ,” then sailed through the Golden Girls theme song Thank you for being a Friend “. Last week, she also bowed to Lizzo’s “About Dant Time “.
She showed her versatility by going toe-to-toe with Panther in a battle over Steppenwolf’s road dog classic “Born to be Wild,” easily bested Fortune Teller in the “Everywhere You Look” battle, and absolutely shut it down on finale night with Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” and a moving version of John Mayer’s “Gravity.”
Judge Ken Jeong, as is often the case, was wrong. He was absolutely certain that Jennifer Hudson was the woman under the golden dome. He exuded super-confident vibes and outlined all the reasons why he was so successful this time. Fellow judge Robin Thicke was certain it was another triple threat, Jeong’s former Community castmate Yvette Nicole Brown, while Nicole Scherzinger was the one who knew what was up.
Wednesday night’s epic two-hour finale found judge’s favorite Harp facing off against three-headed threat The Lambs, who were in perfect harmony on Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” But in the end, the three doe-eyed ladies (Wilson Phillips) were not woman enough to beat former Glee star and Broadway veteran Amber Riley.
Billboard caught up with Riley before the final reveal and spoke to her about how it felt to cruise to victory, what it was like to constantly lie to everyone she loves for months, and when we can expect new music from her.
You came out strong with your P!nk cover, and it felt like you were the front-runner all season. You felt pretty confident about your chances after that performance.
I felt great about the performance, as it was a song I love and I decided to let it all out on the floor every time I went out. I was completely unaware of anyone else singing, so I didn’t know where I stood. I was as surprised as anyone when every round went by.
Who figured out it was you right away?
Oh my goodness, I have been lying to my face for the past few weeks. My family has been listening since I was two years old. My sister is calling me “I know it’s your little girl!” and I was like “Huh?” It’s been torture!
How did it feel to be crowned first Masked Singer queen?
It was fitting, since I am a queen! [Laughs] Just kidding! It was cool and it felt great. We Americans don’t have queens and kings. If you’d like to give me a crown I’ll accept it!
I’ve seen a lot of complex costumes on the show, but that giant instrument on your back seemed pretty physically limiting. You stated that you couldn’t shake your booty so vocals had to be flawless.
[Laughs] Honestly, the costume department is incredible. They are great imagineers. They put it on wheels so it wasn’t as hard as it looked. They asked me every step if it was comfortable. Even though I had to get out of the costume, they thought of a way to make it easy for me to remove it. It wasn’t as bad after all.
You mentioned that there’s something freeing about being masked as well as feeling like you were not always appreciated by the industry. What was it that you were able to do disguisedly that Amber couldn’t?
Although I believe I’m always me, it was a way for people just to listen to me and not have any preconceived notions about who or what I am. It was very cool for me. I’ve been in the business for a while and people may think they know me well. But it was thrilling to be able to hear and see me again when I was revealed.
You’ve been on a hit show [Glee], won an Olivier for playing Effie in Dreamgirls on the West End, and you won Dancing With the Stars back in 2013, but watching you cry through your mask really made it seem like this was a big, cathartic moment for you.
I’ve been in the industry for a long time. I’ve experienced rejection and second-guessing my gifts just like everyone else. I’ve gone through it when it’s 90% rejection and 10% go for it. It brought me to tears to be able to hear my peers, and people I admire, including Nicole [Scherzinger], support me and [praise] me for my gifts. We can’t pretend to be an island and we need to hear from people who encourage us. It was something I needed, and it was very inspiring.
Was it inspiring enough to work on the follow-up to your 2020 Riley album?
Yes! It’s something I’ve been working towards for the past year. I came into the studio with a spark in my heart. The music and the confidence that I now have is incredible. This show was something I had no idea would happen.
How did it feel when Jenny [McCarthy-Wahlberg] said your Gaga was the best performance ever on the show?
It was unbelievable to me. I was a fan of LeAnn Rimes’ Season, and every week she wowed me, so hearing that was huge.
What’s coming up for you next? It seems like you’ll be a lot on our screens over the next few weeks.
The Black Beauty Effect is available now on the Black Experience channel on Xfinity. This is an amazing series that focuses on black women in the beauty industry, and how they have disrupted the status quo. It’s about being yourself and making a difference in Hollywood beauty, hair and makeup. It’s a story about triumph and it’s inspiring to hear the stories of women behind the scenes. I’m also going to be on Celebrity Name That Tune [premiering Jan. 11 on Fox], which I got to do with my little brother [fellow Glee alum] Chris Colfer. It was great to have that fun with Chris, as we are both very competitive.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.