Unmasking Ricki Lake: A goofy show triggers teen memories


Yes, "The Masked Singer" is sort of goofy. You expect that when you're being serenaded by a deer, a rave or a pineapple. But it's also a fun show and, occasionally, a warm one. On Wednesday (Feb. 6), the Television Critic Association saw the episode and then talked to the ousted singer (Ricki Lake) and others. Here's the story I sent to papers:)

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- As
the masks come off, the surprises pile up.

Many people seem
surprised that it was Ricki Lake in the raven costume on “The
Masked Singer.” Or that the show has become a quick ratings hit. Or
that Lake, 50, would remain popular, more than three decades after
her first burst of fame.

“It's nice to
still be here,” she told the Television Critics Association on
Wednesday, shortly after the episode aired.

But the biggest
surprise might be this: Robin Thicke spent his formative years
staring at TV talk shows.

“When I was a
teenage boy, I would watch about five hours of television every day,”
said Thicke, who identified Lake after remembering her long-ago show.

Thicke would later
become a pop star whose “Blurred Lines” reached No. 1 in 14
countries. Fans might suspect he spent his teen years at the beach or
in the nightclub; not so.

“I was a TV
junkie,” he said. “There was Oprah and there was Jerry Springer,
(but) there wasn't much for talk-show hosts going over youthful
problems. And 'Ricki Lake' was one of the only shows like that, so I
enjoyed the show.”

Youth problems can
come in many forms. Thicke was 7 when his parents (singer Gloria
Loring and the late Alan Thicke, an actor and TV personality)
divorced. Lake was about 10 when the grandmother who was raising her
died; she was a 260-pound teen-ager when she starred in the
“Hairspray” (1988) movie.

Later, a
slimmed-down Lake showed a knack for bridging problems. Her talk show
debuted in 1993 and lasted 11 years; a second show debuted in 2013,
lasted a year and brought her a daytime Emmy.

Thicke was 16 when
the talk show began. Some 25 years later, a gesture by “the Raven”
drew him.

“When she put her
hand over her heart,” he said, “it was like a photographic memory
clicked, and I saw her on her talk show.”

Lake was recruited
for “Masked Singe” by the same person (Deena Katz) who lured her
to “Dancing With the Stars” in 2011. “I was like, 'Nah,'”
Lake said. “And then she came back to me and she goes, 'No, no, no.
This is going to be huge and this is going to be a lot of fun.'”

The show had already
been big in Korea and has scored quickly in the U.S. Rob Wade, Fox's
alternative-programming chief, calls it “the highest rating (for a)
launch in seven years.”

And doing it was
fun, Lake said; “it was a blast.”

That was despite her
problems physically -- “I had sciatica (and) could barely walk”
-- and emotionally, involving “my beloved, my husband who had
passed away.”

Technically,
Christian Evans was her ex-husband. They divorced as his bipolar
problems grew, but then got back together. He committed suicide in
February of 2017.

The silliness of
“Masked Singer” was a welcome release, Lake said. “I had a lot
of nerve singing a Lady Gaga song. It was like doing high-end
karaoke.”

Many viewers seemed
to guess who was behind the mask. After “Masked Singer” started
airing, Lake said, “everyone (was) like, 'Hi Raven.' .... It's been
really hard to keep it quiet.”

But the judges
remained baffled ... until one gesture triggered a memory in a former
teen TV junkie.

-- “The Masked
Singer,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox

-- Each week, the
singer getting the fewest votes is ousted and unmasked. So far, that
has included two football players (Antonio Brown and Terry Bradshaw),
two comedians (Tommy Chong and Margaret Cho) and two actresses (Ricki
Lake and Tori Spelling); six people remain.