'The Masked Singer': The Panda Speaks! Laila Ali on 'Conquering' Her Fears of Performing Onstage (Exclusive)

The championship boxer talks to ET about why she turned down the show last season and if she's been hit by the singing bug.

The Panda speaks!

On Wednesday's episode of The Masked Singer, the latest celebrity singer was unmasked and it was none other than Laila Ali, championship boxer and daughter of legend Muhammad Ali. (Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir and YouTube sensation Ninja were unmasked in last week's premiere.)

After performing Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" and season one winner T-Pain's "All I Do Is Win," the undefeated four-time world champion boxer was unveiled to be the celebrity under the Panda mask after being placed in the bottom two alongside The Leopard.

"I retired from boxing many years ago, which was my first love -- [now] I just do what’s fun for me," Ali tells ET early Thursday morning, sharing that she's always had "a secret passion for singing" but not the confidence in her abilities. Competing on Masked Singer (something that almost happened in season one) was an opportunity to "conquer my fears," she says.

Following her reveal, ET spoke with Ali about her experience competing on The Masked Singer, why she didn’t say yes to participating last season and if this has inspired her to continue fostering her secret passion for singing.

ET: What made you decide to compete?

Laila Ali: Now that I am in a space where -- I retired from boxing many years ago, which was my first love -- I just do what’s fun for me. I’ve always had a secret passion for singing, not 100 percent confident in my voice, so this show gave me an opportunity just to like “Wow, I get to live out that passion onstage without having to be shy because of who I am.” Nobody would know who I was. That was fun. That was all it comes down to. You can’t take the show too seriously of course. (Laughs.) That’s what attracted me to it.

Was this experience incredibly different from what you’ve done before?

Absolutely. I never dreamt to put on costumes or sing onstage. I’ve never done anything like this before. I think this goes for most of the people who are doing it, unless you’re a performer and you perform onstage and you’re used to doing that. You have a little bit of a leg up, but it was a totally new experience for me -- and tough. Wearing that costume and being hot; it’s heavy! You can’t really put the mic near your mouth. When you have to sing louder to project your voice, it’s not as comfortable as it is when you don’t have to do that. It was an experience.

Did you have any nerves about the idea of showing a different side of you?

Yeah, I was definitely nervous but I’m the type of person who likes to conquer my fears. So, that was something that gave me an extra push. Through my Laila Ali lifestyle brand and my website and all the content I produce, I’m encouraging people to create a stronger mindset for themselves to push past fear. And sometimes you gotta get uncomfortable to get comfortable again, so I have to walk the walk. I made sure I did it even though I had some second thoughts about saying yes to doing the show.


Did you feel like you accomplished your fear of singing onstage?


What was it like being shrouded in secrecy during your time on Masked Singer?

That’s the whole point of the show, to keep things anonymous. They’re very serious about it. Nobody calls you by your first name. I was “Panda.” I will forever be “Panda.” (Laughs.) It’s totally something you have to abide by, for sure.

After you were revealed in last night’s episode, you mentioned that this entire experience was “humbling.” Can you elaborate?

First of all, I’m an undefeated boxer, that’s what I do for a living, so this was something different. But even if in the competitions I’ve done… I’ve competed on Chopped on the Food Network; I’ve won a couple of times. I’ve made it to the finals on Dancing With the Stars. I made it far on Celebrity Apprentice. Anything that I ever do, I do really well at, so for me, to go home so early was definitely shocking and surprising for me. I didn’t think I’d win because there could be some really powerful, professional singers up there but I definitely thought I’d make it at least halfway through the competition, so I was, like, a little bit humbled, like, “Whoa, what, you know? It’s not the Panda going home!” But at the end of the day, like I said, this is not what I do. I did it to be fun, so I wasn’t heartbroken but I definitely was surprised.

Were you a fan of the show? Did you watch last season? 

I was aware of the show because I was asked to do it last season. I wasn’t available to do it and I wanted to wait and see where things were to go anyway. I saw the show and I saw the format and I know things change as seasons improve as the show goes on, but I knew what I was getting into.

How much practice did you put into this?

I only practiced for a couple of weeks. You can practice as much as you want to or are able to. Certain things are limited; at the beginning of the show, you’re doing shorter songs, you’re doing less choreography, so I think it gets a little tougher and you probably practice more as the show goes on.

Has this experience inspired you to continue to foster your secret passion for singing?

No, I think I’m good. If I had pause thinking about doing it before, I’m good now. I’m like, “Dang, I can’t even get far in this competition! Forget it! This is not my thing!” (Laughs.)

The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

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