By Ryan Fairfield
The premise of “The Masked Singer” (2019–) is fairly simple: A panel of judges attempts to guess the identity of a celebrity contestant who performs in an absurd, extravagant costume, eliminating a contestant each week until there is a winner. Some contestants are talented music artists, such as Natasha Bedingfield, the singer of “Unwritten” (2004) and “Pocketful of Sunshine” (2007), while others are definitely not great singers, but stand out for their hilarious performances — look no further than Wendy Williams’ iconic performance of “Native New Yorker.” This season, with 22 contestants, has many fans of the pop culture phenomenon “Glee” (2009) on the edge of their seats as many think the Harp is Mercedes Jones actress Amber Riley.
In the first episode, the Harp covered “Perfect” (2010) by Pink and fans quickly took to social media with their prediction that Riley was the one performing. Riley was a series regular on “Glee” for five seasons and a recurring star for one, appearing in a total of 93 out of 121 episodes. Having spent about seven years of her career on the show — which heavily featured Riley’s vocal abilities — many fans have grown extremely familiar with her voice.
Riley was known as a vocal powerhouse on “Glee.” Her voice is one of the best in the cast, and she is featured in many of the show’s best songs. In a Billboard ranking of the 15 best duets from the “Glee,” Riley appears four times and her duet with Naya Rivera in “River Deep — Mountain High” (2010) tops the list. Her mash-up of “Rumor Has It / Someone Like You” (2011) from season 3 peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The conclusion that Riley is the Harp comes from a combination of the clues the show provides and the familiarity people have with her voice. If you listen to her performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (1982) from “Glee” and her “Perfect” performance from “The Masked Singer,” there are great similarities between the two. Riley’s ability to project her voice, hold notes for extended periods of time and superb breath control are all commonalities between the two performances.
In week two of “The Masked Singer,” the Harp performed the classic Whitney Houston song “I Have Nothing” (1992). There is no information about whether or not the contestants pick their own songs or have them chosen for them, but if the creators or producers pick the songs, they made a mistake in making the Harp sing this one. On YouTube, there is a video of Riley singing the same song — albeit more toned-down featuring only her vocals and a piano. That being said, listening to the performances back to back, especially the first verse and chorus, they sound almost identical.
The clues for the Harp also align with the prediction that it is Riley. In the first round of clues, the Harp says they auditioned for “the biggest show in the world” as a teenager and were turned down. At the age of 17, Riley was rejected from “American Idol” (2002), a show that was extremely popular at the time. The Harp further goes on to state that it was her “uniqueness that later landed her the opportunity of a lifetime,” a potential nod to her role on “Glee.” The second round of clues, after the Harp was crowned the first “Queen” of the season, features 3D glasses, a witch hat and theater binoculars. Riley was in “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” (2011), a production of “The Wiz” (1978) in which she played Good Witch Addaperle and received multiple awards for her theater performance in “Dreamgirls” (2006) in 2017. With all of these clues and the performances themselves, it is hard to not reach the conclusion that the Harp is Amber Riley.
One of the judges, Nicole Scherzinger, stated that her prediction for the Harp’s identity is Amber Riley, while her fellow judges guessed other celebrities like Ashanti and Yvette Nicole Brown. If the Harp is Riley and she wins — which many predict she will after she was crowned “Queen” in the first episode — the trophy could rest next to her Mirrorball Trophy from “Dancing With the Stars,” her Screen Actors Guild Award for “Glee” and her Laurence Olivier Award for “Dreamgirls.” Needless to say, Riley is an exceptionally accomplished performer across a variety of different aspects of the entertainment industry. She is a solid prediction for the Harp’s identity and a likely winner.