Congratulations on being crowned runner-up! How did you first become involved with The Masked Singer?
By saying no for years and years! It was a friend of a friend who said, ‘Do you think Darren would be interested?’ and I think at any other time in my life, I would’ve said no, but I just finished basically kind of a world tour. I’ve toured Australia, the UK, and then I did about 10 dates in the U.S. I was free and needed a little bit of a break from reality.
[The Masked Singer Australia] was a chance to go home, and I front-loaded the trip with a visit to my mum, who is always great for a cuddle, but I couldn’t tell her what I was there for. The truth is, I did get a publishing deal to write a book for Penguin Australia, so I told her I was coming home to do some research and do a little bit of writing. I didn’t tell her I was in Sydney for a month shooting the show.
I really thought I would be guessed immediately, which I was. I didn’t know much about how the show worked so I just thought the minute I got guessed [I was going home].
Abbie [Chatfield] started crying and I started crying, but then I thought, ‘Oh, that means I’m done. This means I’m going,’ and I went backstage and took off the enormous costume and I thought, ‘Well I’ve been guessed, so I guess this means I leave,’ and everyone was like, ‘No, you’re in the top, so that means you come back next week,’ and then I ended up staying to the very end.
Did you find it hard to stay in character after Abbie Chatfield guessed your identity so early on?
In the beginning, I thought I’d just kind of… I don’t want to say phone it in, but I thought I’ll just do the show and I’ll just sing the songs and I’ll just not fully commit, but [Abbie] made it impossible to do that.
She reminded me of how lucky I am in general to just have this job and to have been a part of writing any songs that have moved anyone, but she was there every week reminding me of the impact that a song has on someone.
I think having taken so much time off. I’ve taken 10 years away from the music industry and having just been on tour, I saw people in the audience who have grown up with me or had patiently waited for me to come back, and I was very humbled by that.
It was a very moving experience to see people and meet people at meet-and-greets that were basically like, ‘I never thought you’d tour again,’ and hearing their stories and what the songs meant to them, so very quickly, [The Masked Singer] went from a job to this challenge of, ‘I have to do a good job.’ People know it’s me every week, so now the pressure is on.
It became quite a career-defining experience for me because I didn’t know if I could do it.
Before you were unmasked, you mentioned that even though performing in front of thousands can be comforting, it can also be quite isolating. What about The Masked Singer experience helped you reconnect with yourself and your love of performing?
I think [The Masked Singer] strips away all of the comfort blankets that you have as a performer. You don’t have your own persona. Normally when you’re doing your own show, all of the audience is there just to see you, so you feel like you have everyone on your side to begin with.
Even just little hand gestures or the way I would normally stand, there is a certain confidence in years and years of stage presence, and I couldn’t use any of that because I was inside this disguise, so all I had was sound.
All I had was just my ability to make sound and trust that everything that was happening behind me was working. I couldn’t really see, I could barely move, and so it just takes you back to those early memories that I have of learning to sing and being in singing lessons – taking care of the voice, thinking about pitch, thinking about the real basics.
Performing inside the mask provides a unique opportunity for the audience to detach the artist from the art, and let your voice be the centre of the performance. What do you think it is about the power of the voice that resonates so deeply with people?
If I think about instruments, often the voice is compared to the violin. It’s a stringed instrument, and the voice feels a little bit like a stringed instrument in that it’s these two pieces of very thin skin, but they vibrate. Vibration is a frequency and frequency carries with it this idea of emotion.
I think we can tell someone’s mood from the tone of their voice when they’re speaking. I don’t like to give myself a compliment, but I know that I am an emotional person, and I think that my emotional state comes through when I sing.
I think that there are certain people in the world that we are drawn to their voices because I think we relate, and we can feel [their emotion.] When I listen to Adele singing a song like When We Were Young, it’s not just the lyrics she’s singing, but there’s a cry and her voice.
That’s what is so unique about a show like The Masked Singer because you either relate emotionally to that person’s voice or you just don’t, and that’s fine too. When it’s someone’s voice that’s really magical to us, it’s exciting because we [think,] ‘That voice has moved me in the way that it has impacted my memories.’ That’s what’s magical about this concept of a secret voice.
How did you decide on the Grim Reaper as your mask? Did you experience any unique challenges performing in such an elaborate costume?
I did ask to choose my costume, and I had approval over the costume, but the first one they presented to me I just loved. I just thought [Grim Reaper] was really cool and I was just grateful that I didn’t look like a ball!
I wanted to look slightly human-like, and obviously, [The Masked Singer costume designer] Tim Chappel is just a genius, so I was very grateful that [Grim Reaper] was sort of rock ‘n’ roll and that it threw people off the scent a little bit, because I’m a romantic at heart, and this costume was sort of scary. If you really thought about it, I was a goth when I was younger and I was into vampires, so he was very clever in giving people that clue.
It was incredibly difficult to perform in because it involved a harness that strapped around my chest that was shaped like a V that held this massive head above me to make me almost 12 feet tall, and my arms threaded through so that they were up [above my head], which meant my lungs were always lifted, so I had to become accustomed to singing with an elevated chest.
There were lots of things that I think I was very lucky for. It was very breezy in there and I could move my head around a lot, but it was a challenge. It was very hot, and terrifying. Probably not good for the children’s vote I imagine!