'The Masked Singer' Unmasked: The Astronaut Reveals How the Show Influenced His Upcoming Album (Exclusive)
By Zach Seemayer
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The Masked Singer returned on Wednesday for the "Battle of the Sixes," as the top six contestants returned to the stage for a musical battle royale.
The Frog, The Rhino, The Kitty, The Astronaut, The Night Angel and The Turtle sang their hearts out, while the panel of celebrity "detectives" -- including Robin Thicke, Nicole Scherzinger, Ken Jeong, and Jenny McCarthy, as well as guest panelist Gordon Ramsay -- tried their best to figure out the singers' identities.
After all the songs were sung, it was time for the audience and panelists to vote on who got to move on and who had to go home. Once the votes were cast, it was The Astronaut who was jettisoned into the void of space, despite an impressive and moving performance of One Direction's "Story of My Life."
The panel was given one last chance to guess The Astronaut's alter ego, and while suggestions included Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Ben Platt and Skylar Astin, Scherzinger was the only one who truly seemed sure when she guessed country star Hunter Hayes.
As The Astronaut removed his steampunk-inspired space helmet, he proved Scherzinger correct, much to her delight.
On Wednesday, Hayes spoke to ET about his experience on The Masked Singer and opened up about how the show came at the exact right moment in his life.
"I cannot tell you how perfect that timing was," Hayes, 28, reflected. "We'd just released my album [Wild Blue], part one of a series, and I knew that for part two, I needed to push myself and do some things I've never done before."
What better way to do something new and different than put on an elaborate outfit and sing renditions of hit songs to a screaming crowd of people who don't know who you are?
"It was a chance for me to just try a bunch of new things in a semi-anonymous territory," Hayes added.
As it turns out, he chose to be The Astronaut because of how well the idea and themes of the character mirrored the music he's been working on.
"I signed up really early, so I had some options. Not a lot, but some. I was torn between The Astronaut and The Robot," Hayes recalled, referring to the costume that would eventually be worn by Lil Wayne, the first contestant to get the boot in season 3.
"I talk about music like it's flying, because it's all about freedom… My last album was called Wild Blue, and it was all about flying and leaving your comfort zone. And this next album is about the unknown and it's about change. And I feel like the astronaut's suit is a perfect combination [of] flying and the unknown."
One of the things Hayes said he realized is the show's ability to make you reevaluate yourself and to be more self-aware and reflective.
"I think it's part of the magic of the show… It accidentally forces you to return to who you are [and] you have to create the character based on yourself, instead of become a character," he said.
For Hayes -- who has been making and recording music since he was a child and has celebrated experimenting with sounds and styles throughout his career -- a music competition show wasn't something he'd normally be interested in. However, by its very nature, The Masked Singer celebrates individuality and experimentation over judging perceived talent.
"I have a hard time with competition when it comes to singing and/or art and music, because everybody is an individual and everybody's got something different to give to the world. And I think we should embrace the things that make different people different," Hayes explained. "[But] I think that's why this show is so successful, because it does embrace individuality."
Now that his Masked Singer journey is over, Hayes has been working hard on the next chapter in his musical journey with a follow-up album to Wild Blue, which he's titled Red Sky.
According to Hayes, his time on The Masked Singer actually had a big impact on his upcoming music as well.
"Red Sky is a really fun new chapter for me, and I have a lot to thank the show for in the making of this new chapter," he shared. "Red Sky is about the unknown and embracing the unknown and I think this show really helped me embrace that."
Hayes has been low-key about his work on the album as a whole, mainly "telling the fans about individual songs" that he's been working on while self-isolating at his home in Nashville amid the coronavirus outbreak.
While the crisis has put all of his performance plans on hold, Hayes said that he's making the most of the challenging situation and throwing himself into his music with renewed vigor.
"Whereas before, when we had tour dates, I would have only been able to dive into this album a couple days at a time," Hayes said. "So, it's allowed me to dive in wholeheartedly and really lean into finishing these songs."
"We're nearing the finish of what I feel like is the first batch [of songs to choose from] for the new record," he added. "I really want this album to be organic and I want to make sure it says everything that I want it to say."