“The Masked Singer” kicked off their season 3 semifinals on Wednesday, with the four remaining singers going toe to toe for a chance to move on to the finals and a shot at winning the Golden Mask.
The Night Angel, The Turtle, The Frog and The Rhino hit the stage to try and impress the audience and the panel of celebrity “detectives” — including Robin Thicke, Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong, Nicole Scherzinger and guest panelist Jay Pharoah.
Sadly, after a long, hard-fought season — and a heartwarming performance of Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” — The Rhino’s journey came to an end.
All the panelists made their final guesses as to his identity, and the guesses were all over the board. However, in one of the season’s biggest shockers, it was Jeong — the panel’s famously terrible guesser — who actually nailed it.
After all the predictions were made, The Rhino removed his aviator-inspired mask and revealed himself to be none other than former Major League Baseball pitcher turned country music artist Barry Zito.
Zito spoke with ET on Wednesday, and he opened up about his experience on the wildly weird singing competition and dished on the significance of some of his clues and his elaborate Rhino costume.
One clue with a particularly special meaning was presented during Wednesday’s semifinals, when The Rhino showed the judges an adorable baby rhino pin he was wearing on his lapel for the performance.
It turns out, the baby rhino pin represents Zito’s newborn baby boy, Rome, whom Zito and his wife, Amber Seyer, welcomed just days before the episode taped.
“Our baby came five weeks early, and it was a pretty precarious situation with me flying down, back and forth,” Zito says, explaining how “The Masked Singer” tapes in Los Angeles, but he and his family live in Nashville.
“We agreed to do the show back in December, my wife was very supportive, and our baby was supposed to come March 27, and then as we got closer, we got the news… that our baby was small and they were transferring us to a specialist,” Zito recalls. “Then they said our baby could come five to eight weeks early, and I’m sitting there looking at the calendar for Masked Singer shooting, and I’m going, ‘Oh my god, I could be in L.A. shooting, and we could have this baby premature, this could be a disaster.'”
As luck would have it, their fears were, to a degree, realized when it came time to film the quarterfinals. During last week’s episode, when he performed “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” by The Righteous Brothers, Zito said he had quite a lot on his mind.
“I got the news about an hour before I sang that song that my wife was told she could go into laboUr at any moment,” he explains. “So right after I sang that song, I got off stage, ran to the airport, we got a flight at 11 p.m. and I got into Nashville at 3 a.m. and had the baby a few hours later.”
However, Zito still had to perform for the semifinals, so that meant spending a few sleepless nights with his wife and newborn baby, as well as the couple’s two other sons — Mars, 5, and Mercer, 2 — before hopping back on a flight to Los Angeles.
“Then, getting off a flight two days after, with no sleep in the hospital, and singing the song that airs tonight, and missing rehearsal, it was pretty stressful,” Zito shares.
While the former MLB pro admits that he was disappointed he didn’t make it to the finals, he is ultimately happy with how things turned out
“All things considered, I was super shocked that I went as far as I did,” Zito says. “But when I was unmasked, I was super bummed. But there was that part of me that was like, ‘OK, but I could be home right now with my wife [and our newborn].’ It was pretty stressful.”
Zito also reflected on his incredible Rhino costume — which was one of the most dynamic and commanding outfits of the season — and explained why he picked that particular animal when presented with a number of different options.
“Even though I was this baseball player, I was raised in a family of musicians and more creative-type people, and so I always felt a little bit like a fish out of water when I was in these Major League locker rooms with these big, strong intimidating athletes,” says Zito, whose parents both worked in the music business, and whose father was an orchestra composer as well as a conductor and arranger for Nat King Cole.
“I was actually always the worst athlete on my team, you know, I ran the slowest, I couldn’t jump, but I always wanted to be stronger, bigger, more intimidating… to get in that headspace,” Zito explains. “So, when I saw The Rhino, it really was resonating with that part of me that wanted to be that big, strong, intimidating rhino… because [in real life] I am a little more easygoing.”
With The Rhino out of the race, The Turtle, The Night Angel and The Frog will be fighting for the Golden Mask in the finals, and it truly is anyone’s game at this point.
“The Masked Singer” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.
MORE FROM ET: