Jonathan Ross is talking about the return of The Masked Singer and uses what couldn’t be a more apt description of the series when he says “It’s ITV’s Christmas gift to the television viewer”.
And there’s no doubting it’ll be a welcome presence when it airs again on Boxing Day with a line-up of 12 new characters, including Grandfather Clock, Badger, Seahorse, Sausage (who will perform wrapped in newspaper and accompanied by a portion of chips), Blob, Robin, Harlequin, Swan and more.
Ross will once again be joined by returning panellists Davina McCall and Rita Ora, with comedian Mo Gilligan taking over from American star Ken Jeong.
Newcomer Gilligan and returning host Joel Dommett are both in agreement as to how much the singing series will lighten the national mood.
Gilligan says: “I think, during these kind of times, shows like this is what really brings people together on a Saturday night.”
The last series of the popular show, which sees a variety of celebrities singing while dressed in elaborate costumes and masks to hide their identity, was won by Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts, who performed as Queen Bee.
She triumphed over an eclectic and unexpected range of singers that included politician Alan Johnson, singers Kelis, Justin Hawkins, Skin, Jake Shears and Katherine Jenkins, and footballer Teddy Sheringham.
Dommett says the last series “felt important because it was so different to any other show that was on and it’s just, more than ever, a show that has no cynicism to it, it’s not cynical, it’s just silly, fun, and I think 2020 has proved that is what we need, I think.
“And I’m just really excited for it to be on TV and for everyone to have a bit of silliness in their life in a very serious year.”
Like many TV productions, filming this year was at the mercy of coronavirus pandemic, and luckily was able to be filmed in September with a very limited audience.
TV star Ross explains: “This time filming was a lot of fun, in a way it was more of a party atmosphere.
“We recorded this under very strict Covid rules so it was a different atmosphere anyway.
“We were lucky enough to have a small audience and there was that feeling where we all just felt lucky to be out, and I think that the performers felt that way as well – they really entered into the spirit and there was a real camaraderie on the show.”
He adds: “It’s the best show to be doing because everyone’s in a mask, so we’re sort of ahead of the game. In actual fact, I think we all feel safer here than we do anywhere else and hopefully all of the audience and all our celebrities feel that way as well.”
Former Big Brother host McCall is in agreement as she explains that the judging panel also have Perspex screens between them for added safety.
“That’s lovely,” she says, “because I was very worried about what it would look like, because I thought, well, if they’re (the audience) all separated by two metres and they’re only in groups of four, it’s going to feel so cold and a bit dead in the audience, and how are you going to get a vibe?
“But the lighting team here have done the most amazing job and putting these – I can’t explain it, they put these beautiful column lights that stand up, three or four between each group of people.
“So, not only is that creating a bit of a barrier between the two socially distanced groups, but it creates, when you look into the audience, a sort of feeling of fullness and it’s so pretty.
“So, it looks beautiful, it adds to the glamour of the show, we still have an audience who are completely safe – all in masks, and so that worked much better than I thought.”
For singer Ora, whose own hits include Hot Right Now and Let You Love Me, it’s Ross’s outfits that have been catching her eye.
“You should see Jonathan’s wardrobe…” she teases.
Chat show host and radio presenter Ross adds: “I took advantage of lockdown to go through all my boxes of old stuff and I’m getting out clothes I considered ridiculous in the ’80s and now I still consider ridiculous but I don’t care anymore.”
An excited Ora chips in: ” I’m like ‘Please can I wear this?’ I literally ask to borrow his clothes all the time.”
The first series saw her and Chameleon (later unmasked as The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins) share a brief on-screen flirtation.
Will this series see anyone else try to win over her or the panel?
Ora jokes: “I thought I’d found my Prince Charming last season – what happened?! I didn’t have those expectations this season, I didn’t want to be heartbroken again.”
Viewers, however, are in for a treat, promises Gilligan.
“When people see it, they will be blown away by how big everyone goes with their performances. I lost myself a few times you know,” he says.
“I got so into it and I was dancing and grooving and then got asked ‘Who do you think it is?’ I had to gather myself quickly!
“I can promise you epic performances – we’re talking flame-throwers, glitter raining down.”
A perfect tonic for 2020.
– The Masked Singer returns to ITV on Boxing Day (December 26) at 7pm.