LOS ANGELES, March 10 (UPI) -- The Masked Singer judges Robin Thicke, Nicole Scherzinger, Ken Jeong and Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg still don't know what to expect from Season 5 contestants. Despite four seasons on the singing competition, the judges said the producers still have more surprises in store for them.
McCarthy-Wahlberg said Season 5, which premieres Wednesday, will introduce a new factor in the game, called Cluedle-Doo, which offers the judges more clues about contestants -- but they may not always be helpful.
"He messes with us," McCarthy-Wahlberg said in a recent Television Critics Association Zoom panel. "Sometimes he'll steal it or not tell us or turn it around."
On the show, disguised contestants perform while wearing costumes that cover their faces and bodies. The judges try to guess who is wearing the costume, while the audience votes on the performances.
The contestant with the lowest score gets unmasked and sent home. The singer who makes it to the end without the judges guessing their true identity wins.
"I think our ears are pretty golden," Scherzinger said. "Our clue master is definitely Jenny."
Jeong said he trusts his gut when he hears the contestants perform. He said he has an advantage over Thicke and Scherzinger, whose experience as singers clouds their judgment.
"I'm the most authentic voice because I only listen to my gut and nobody else, including my peers, producers, network [or] studio," Jeong said.
McCarthy-Wahlberg takes the opposite approach, focusing more on solving the clues and less on the contestants' performances. "I lean on those clues," she said. "I love going to escape rooms on the weekends. I love to figure things out."
South Korean television started the format as King of Masked Singer in 2015. Fox launched the American version with English-speaking celebrities in 2019. The success spawned other international versions and a Fox spinoff, The Masked Dancer.
Thicke said he could recognize celebrity voices better in the first two seasons. With the addition of further clues and new components to the game, he's "more confused than ever."
As a result, Thicke said, he's decided to focus less on identifying the contestants in Season 5.
"I've decided to just have a good time this season," Thicke said. "I think Ken and I kind of switched places. I'm just going for the jokes."
Season 5 of The Masked Singer welcomes a new host. Niecy Nash replaced Nick Cannon after he tested positive for COVID-19. She was originally a guest host for the season premiere but now hosts the entire season.
Nash previously sat in with the panel as a guest on a Season 4 episode. Now, Nash said she struggles to refrain from guessing the contestants' identities since it is not her job as host.
"You can't because you are up there trying to lead the charge, lead the circus," Nash said. "Every time I had a free moment, I was trying to figure out the clues."
Having acted since the '90s, Nash said the contestants reminded her of people she's met in Hollywood. In fact, she thought she recognized some contestants more intimately.
"Everybody who stood next to me in the costume I thought was somebody I dated," Nash said. "I'm, like, 'Did we go out?'"
The success of previous seasons of The Masked Singer has attracted even bigger celebrities to Season 5, McCarthy-Wahlberg said. Expect to see stars even more prominent than the likes of Chris Daughtry and Joey Fatone compete this season.
"There were celebrities this season that were on this show that I thought would never be on The Masked Singer," McCarthy-Wahlberg said. "I was like, 'No way. This person, they are on our show?'"
Season 5 continues production under COVID-19 safety protocols. It uses virtual audiences and clips from past-season audiences to make up for social distancing protocols.
Scherzinger said the pandemic has enabled more celebrities to compete on the show.
"Their schedules are more free, but also they want this platform," Scherzinger said. "They miss performing, that they miss the stage, and this is the perfect opportunity to get back out there. "
The Masked Singer returns Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST on Fox.