‘The Masked Dancer’ Cricket is a 17-time Grammy-nominated ’90s singer

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The folks at Fox have apparently been trying to get Brian McKnight to compete on The Masked Singer for several seasons now. So judge Ken Jeong was shocked when, at the end of the Wednesday’s Group A playoffs for spinoff series The Masked Dancer, the Cricket removed his bug-eyed headpiece… and there was the “Back at One” soulman himself.

Not even former Beverly Hills, 90210 star and current Masked Dancer judge Brian Austin Green recognized McKnight from the clues, one of which was actually the numerical sequence 9-0-2-1-0, even though McKnight’s “Love Is” duet with Vanessa Williams was on the hit 90210 soundtrack album in 1992 and McKnight even guest-starred on that teen soap. “I’m blown away. It is an absolute honor to have you here and to meet you. I’ve been a huge fan of yours forever. I just wasn’t expecting that to be Brian McKnight, obviously. Stupid me,” quipped Brian.

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Only the panel’s expert vibeologist, Paula Abdul, correctly guessed the man in green tights busting those old-skool moves to “This Is How We Do It.” But as a ‘90s pop star herself, who also appeared on the 90210 soundtrack — and someone who once famously danced alongside a bipedal, anthropomorphic cat — Paula was clearly uniquely qualified for this task.

When asked why he’d signed up for The Masked Dancer — rather than the show he frankly had a much better chance of winning, The Masked Singer — Quiet Storm crooner and 17-time Grammy nominee McKnight explained, “The way I sound, you’d probably be able to pick me. But with this, even though those were the most obvious clues on Planet Earth, it was fun, because nobody knew it was me — except Paula!”

So, the Cricket will not be hopping into next week’s the Super Six semifinals. But Group A’s surviving Exotic Bird, Hammerhead, and Tulip will be there, competing alongside Group B’s Zebra, Cotton Candy, and Sloth. So let’s start back at one, and try to guess the other Group A mystery dancers’ identities…

The Exotic Bird

The Bird’s pop dance to Sam Smith and Disclosure’s “Latch” didn’t quite take flight, but she definitely seemed comfortable on a big stage. She was fun and flirtatious, really feeling the fantasy. “You definitely are a performer. … You know how to work it onstage,” raved judge Ashely Tisdale.

The clues: She got “really sick with a savage bird flu” right before a major opportunity and found it to “hard to breathe,” but her mom nursed her back to health. We also saw a football trophy, slice of apple pie, and a DJ turntable setup (implying that she might be a hip-hop or EDM artist), and her verbal clue was “number one.” Previous clues from the season premiere were the number 17, a glitter gun, perfume, and a carton of eggs marked “Best by ’07.” The Exotic Bird had also previously mentioned that she got her start as a teenager and was attacked over her personal life and for “being a big bird.”

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Judges’ guesses: Shakira, Janet Jackson, Jordin Sparks, Kate Hudson, Megan Thee Stallion.

My guess: The Bird’s physique didn’t quite match “Body” rapper Megan, and the moves were not advanced enough to be Shakira or Janet. Paula, who choreographed Janet Jackson’s early music videos, knew right away that Ken’s Janet guess was way off. But I think Paula will soon be gloating again, because she guessed this was her former American Idol pal Jordin, and the clues are adding up. Jordin, the daughter of pro football player Phillippi Sparks, was 17 years old when she won Idol in ’07; was in the movie Sparkle (hence the glitter); is an all-American girl (hence the apple pie); has her own fragrance line; is 5-foot-10; and was a gossip-column fixture back when she dated Jason Derulo. Jordin also had a No. 1 hit with “No Air,” a duet with hip-hop star Chris Brown (hence the “hard to breathe” clue), and in the past she suffered a couple illnesses — a vocal cord hemorrhage in 2008 and acute appendicitis in 2009 — that forced her to cancel important concerts and TV appearances.

The Hammerhead

The sharkboy’s TikTok moves to the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” indicated he’s a younger, social media-savvy celebrity. He’s for sure not a professional dancer, but he did seem like someone who gets down at the club on a regular basis.

The clues: There were a few seeming Eminem clues (quotes from the song “Lose Yourself” and multiple flashes of the letter “E”), a wedding cake, carrots, tomatoes, and an aquarium. He talked about feeling “locked in a cage” and how he once dreamed of being a lawyer. His verbal clue was “heartbreaker.” Previous clues included a bowl of alphabet soup that spelled out the word “TALK,” a coffee mug with the name “Joe,” and references to early fame, burnout, workaholism, lifeguarding, and painting.

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Judges’ guesses: Ryan Seacrest, Joe Rogan, Joe Jonas, the Situation.

My guesses: Paula once again proved she’s the panel’s most valuable judge, but when she guessed the Situation, she was slightly off the mark. I think this is another Jersey Shore star, Vinny Guadagnino. Vinny hosted a short-lived talk show, likes to paint, became famous while within the fishbowl/cage-like setup of a reality TV show, once wanted to be a lawyer, and, perhaps most notably, starred as a character named Joe Conte in a movie called Jersey Shore Shark Attack. It is now clear that the Hammerhead honed his dance skills on the Karma dance floor! Maybe he took E at Karma, too.

The Tulip

If there is one professional/trained dancer of this season, even more so than the Cotton Candy, it is this flower-girl. Her contemporary routine to the Eva Cassidy version of Sting’s “Fields of Gold” was like something out of So You Think You Can Mask. Her performance even had guest judge Rob Lowe in tears. “If you had told me that I would end up on this panel weeping to a dancing tulip, I would have said you’re crazy,” the former Brat Packer chuckled.

The clues: We saw chalk, a flower-crowned rival-turned-BFF, and more TikTok references. Verbal clues included “frozen” and “princess,” and the Tulip said she was “judged a lot as kid.” Previous clues were the number 11, the acronym “ALDC,” and references to glee club, acrobatics, and Wicked.

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Judges’ guesses: Sarah Hyland, Hayden Panettiere, Kristen Bell, Charli D’Amelio, Simone Biles.

My guesses: After watching the Tulip blossom onstage twice, I now think she is an alumnus of Dance Moms’ Abby Lee Dance Company (hence the “ALDC”). I am going with Kenzie Ziegler, a.k.a. Mackenzie, who starred in the movie Ice Princess Lily and as Dorothy in a holiday pantomime called The Wonderful Winter of Oz. The flower-crown-wearing friend might represent Kenzie’s old sister Maddie, who danced with Sia at Coachella.

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