King of Mask Singer (Korean: 미스터리 음악쇼 복면가왕; lit. Mystery Music Show: King of Mask Singer) is a South Korean singing competition Talent Show that has been airing on MBC since April 2015. It is the original show that spawned The Masked Singer franchise.
Like the international franchise, all the contestants participate under a mask and a pseudonym, and their real identities are only revealed when they are eliminated. Their speaking voices are also modified. This is where the similarity ends. King of Mask Singer is broadcast weekly, so the competition is split into rounds instead, with the winner of each round being crowned King or Queen and returning to next week's show to defend their title. There are no clue packages; instead, the contestants are given the opportunity to show off their specialities in the first two rounds, which usually involves voice impersonations, dancing, physical skills, etc.
The contestants participate in a single-elimination tournament. Each round of the competition is split into two episodes. In the first episode, four pairs of singers are introduced, and they each sing a duet. The audience and the panel of judges and celebrities vote for their favourite singer, and the winner moves on to the next round. For this round, the eliminated contestants are allowed to sing the song they prepared for the second round, and they take off their mask halfway through the song.
The second episode starts with the winners of pairs one and two going head-to-head with a solo song, followed by the winners of pairs three and four. The winners then compete in round three, and whoever wins gets to challenge the King or Queen. The competition ends with the challenger either being eliminated, or becoming the new King or Queen.
The show is hosted by Kim Sungjoo. The current panel of judges are: comedians Kim Gura, Lee Yoonseok, and Shin Bongsun; and the music specialists Yoo Youngseok, Yoon Sang, Kim Hyuncheol, and Kai.
This show provides examples of:
- The Ace:
- Ha Hyunwoo as Music Commander holds the record for both the highest number of wins set by a male contestant, and the highest number of wins overall, having won nine times.
- Son Seungyeon as East Invincibility won eight times, making her the longest reigning female contestant.
- EXIDs Solji is the only contestant who has ever been Queen twice. She won the pilot episode in 2015, and then became Queen again for five rounds in 2018.
- Ambiguous Gender: Since all the contestants are wearing masks and are often given gender-neutral pseudonyms, this can sometimes happen. For instance, when The Lamp Genie first appeared, the panellists were divided over their gender. They quickly realised that The Lamp Genie was actually rocker Kim Kyungho, thanks to his distinct voice.
- The Big Guy: Ballad singer KCM, whose muscular body is so distinct that every time hes participated in the show, he has had to wear a cloak to hide his figure.
- The Bus Came Back: It is common for celebrities to first visit the show as a guest panellist before they then take part as a contestant, and vice versa.
- Butt-Monkey: Lee Yoonseok tends to gets this treatment, as Kim Sungjoo has a habit of calling him the minority opinion.
- The Cameo:
- Christmas Episode: The episodes transmitted around Christmas and New Year always feature Christmas-themed masks, outfits, and pseudonyms.
- Cool Crown: The King or Queen gets to wear a crown over their mask.
- Cool Mask: All the contestants wear paper masks. The masks are designed to portray either a cartoon human face, an animal, or are they are based on a more abstract design.
- Creator Cameo: Old Man With A Lump was revealed to be Hwang Jaegeun, the designer responsible for designing all the masks on the show.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: This can happen when a noticeably bad singer ends up competing against someone good. Lee Boram of SeeYa holds the record for the highest number of votes in any round, having won by 96 votes to 3.
- Decided by One Vote: There have been quite a few rounds where the winning contestant won by 50 to 49 votes. The first time it happened was in the match between Kim Yeonwoo and Bae Dahae.
- Disguised in Drag:
- Mystery Stamp Bride, who turned out to be Baek Chungkang. To hide his identity, his mask had a veil that covered his front and back, and he wore heels for the entire time.
- Most Beauty Uhwudong was UP10TION member Sunyoul. He chose to sing "Tears" in the second round, a song noted for its high notes and for generally being a difficult song to sing even for female singers; and when he was unmasked, the panellists were in so much disbelief that they asked him to sing "Tears" again. His disguise was so convincing that Kim Sungjoo accidentally called UP10TION a girl group.
- U-Go-Girl was trot singer Han Yijae. Unlike the aforementioned contestants, he was already known for his ability to sing in both a male and a female voice.
- Dramatic Unmask: Happens every time a contestant is eliminated. They turn to the back of the stage to take their mask off. The audience members seated at the back are the first to discover their identity, so their reactions are normally shown first, before the contestant then reveals who they are to everybody else.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- The masks in the earlier episodes were much more abstract than the current masks, and they tended to look more realistic. It took a while before the masks developed into the cuter, more cartoonish style that is currently used.
- Episode 3 is the only episode where the format for round one was different. Instead of the pairs competing in a duet, each person sung half of a different song.
- Episode 5 was the first time when the eliminated contestants from round one could sing the song they prepared for the second round.
- Epic Fail:
- Episode 87 features a contestant under the pseudonym of Father, Im Gonna Be The Mask King. A few of the regular panellists thought that she might be a legendary singer like Patti Kim. Nobody realised she was actually Shin Bongsun.
- In episode 167, nobody managed to guess the real identities of the contestants The Front and The Back. When eliminated contestant The Front was singing his solo song, Kim Gura suddenly stood up, having finally realised that he is MC Gree, aka his son Kim Donghyun.
- Giving Up the Ghost: Any time a really dramatic identity reveal happens, the panellists reactions are edited this way.
- Limited Wardrobe: Played with. When a contestant becomes King or Queen, their characters outfit generally stays the same throughout their run, but little details might be altered to fit the genre or mood of their song better.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: It is common for the viewers watching the show to work out the identities of the singers ahead of the panellists, especially if the contestant is an idol. Of course, this also gets subverted if a singer with a distinct voice appears on the show.
- Secret Identity Vocal Shift: When the contestants arent singing, their spoken voices are altered to disguise their identities.
- Serious Business: Kim Sungjoo tried to avert this in episode 71. After Rio Olympics Mascot Vinicius was revealed to be announcer Lee Sungbae, the panel jokingly suggested to vote for who should be the new host of the show. Kim Sungjoo then constantly reminded everyone that this vote was just for fun.
- Sibling Rivalry: Sibling duo AKMU competed against each other in round one, in episode 99.
- Shout-Out: Quite a few of the masks are designed like this. In the past, there have been contestants like Frozen Ice Princess, The Wizard of OZ Dorothy, to name but a few.
- The Stoic: Father, I'm Gonna Be The Mask King barely moved on stage. Kim Gura then lampshaded this by telling her that it was okay to move around. After Shin Bongsun was unmasked, she mentioned that she had deliberately stood still to avoid the panellists from working out her identity.
- Surprisingly Good Foreign Language: "Mai Più Così Lontano" by Andrea Bocelli was sung by Beast and Minyo, and it is so far the only Italian song to have been sung on the show.
- Sweet Polly Oliver:
- Up and Down Viking was revealed to be Park Kyungseo.
- Six Million Dollar Man was former basketball player Park Chansook.
- Tempting Fate: Kim Gura did this twice to two different Kings.
- Mysticism Baby Angel became the new King in episode 92, which was broadcast on 1st January 2017, meaning that he was also the first King of the new year. In the next episode, Kim Gura warned him that because one seemed to be his Arc Number, it would also mean that he would only be King for one round. Gura was right.
- When Gangnam Swallow became King, Kim Gura warned him to be careful of female contestants. Gangnam Swallow lost to Davichi's Lee Haeri.