Few Masked Singer viewers were surprised by Wednesday’s Season 5 finale when champion the Piglet turned out to be Nick Lachey. The 98 Degrees star’s name in fact trended on Twitter months ago, the very first time he performed, due to his instantly identifiable vocals. (“I can’t really mask my voice very well,” Lachey tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume with a sheepish chuckle.) Many fans were surprised, however, by the boy band veteran’s ability to adapt his voice to everything from traditional opera to alternative rock.
The latter performance was the Piglet’s most hog-wild moment of the season, when Lachey tapped into what guest judge Rita Wilson called his “inner rock star” and totally pulled off the Foo Fighters’ hard-charging 2007 hit “The Pretender.” As it turned out, Lachey had to go directly to his pal, Foos frontman Dave Grohl, to get permission to do that song. Grohl rarely clears his compositions for reality competitions – no Foos tune has ever been covered on American Idol, for instance, and when Nick Jonas and Rachel Mac did “Best of You” on this week’s The Voice finale, that was a Voice first. But Grohl had faith that the Piglet would do a squealingly good version.
“I’m a huge fan of rock — huge Zeppelin fan, huge Foo Fighters fan — and ironically, Dave Grohl’s kids and my kids went to school together. So I know Dave and I wanted to do that song, and I went to him and said, ‘Hey man, would you, would you bless this?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, man — but you gotta kill it!’” Lachey recalls. “So, I definitely felt the pressure to go out there and do it some justice. … I was afraid he was going to say no, and I kind of put that disclaimer, like, ‘Hey man, I totally get it if you don’t want to do this, but I gotta ask, would you clear this for me?’ And he said, ‘I’m calling management now. Done. Just make sure you kill it.’ So, I get my marching orders from Dave, and I tried my best to go out there and kill it.”
As for whether Grohl approved of the Piglet’s rockin’ Super 8 week performance, Lachey laughs, “Well, he said he liked it! But what’s he going to say to me, ‘You butchered it’? He still speaks to me, so I have to assume I didn’t do it too bad. … It’s always been one of my favorite songs of theirs, and it was just a way do something different that we hadn’t seen on The Masked Singer before, like a heavy, hard-hitting rock song. And sung by a piglet with a spinning propeller. What gets better than that?”
Lachey is no stranger to reality television, having hosted talent competitions like The Sing-Off and, of course, having had his tabloid marriage to first wife Jessica Simpson chronicled on three seasons of MTV’s groundbreaking series Newlyweds. While he describes The Masked Singer as “the craziest, most surreal, ridiculous — in the best way as possible — kind of show that I’ve ever been a part of,” when asked if the surreal fishbowl experience of Newlyweds ever soured him on reality TV, he says, “There are many different types of opportunities. I don’t think I’ll ever be as open and transparent as I was at one point in my life. I think we live and we learn, and we move on. But TV is where I make my living, whether it’s hosting or being a participant, and then obviously singing and touring. I’ve tried to embrace and approach every kind of different opportunity in my career with equal enthusiasm and equal appreciation. … I’m very lucky to still be able to do this 25 years later, and I don’t take that for granted or take that lightly.”
Now that he’s been unmasked, however, Lachey is getting back to pop music, with 98 Degrees releasing the new jam “Where Do You Wanna Go” on July 9 and getting back on the road later this year. This season of The Masked Singer might as well have been called The Masked Boy Band (other participants included New Edition’s Bobby Brown, B2K’s Omarion, Hanson, and even New Kids on the Block’s Donnie Wahlberg), and Lachey recognizes that there is a new wave of appreciation for 98 Degrees and their peers.
“I think these kind of nostalgia tours have done have done really well because they represent great times in people’s lives,” he muses. “I mean, that was just an easier time, the feel-good music, and things just seem a lot harder these days. And so I think there’s a real urge that people that want to go back and revisit how they felt back in those days. … They want to relive those songs and relive those memories and relive those moments.”
As for whether boy bands are now finally getting their critical due, in an age when an ‘NSync reunion is the biggest thing that happens at Coachella and BTS is the biggest group on the planet, Lachey reflects on the flak 98 Degrees and other teen-pop stars used to receive and says: “I think it’s easy to kind of lump everybody in when there’s a surge happening, like the boy band thing that kind of seemed to happen in the late ‘90s. It’s easy to just dismiss it as, ‘Oh, these are all prefabricated, cookie-cutter, blah, blah, blah.’ And then in hindsight you say, ‘Well, actually, what they were doing was pretty legit, and we kind of missed that.’
“It’s easy to lose track of that and hate on that when you see [kids] camping out and doing all the things that super boy band fans like to do… going out and buying the bed sheets and buying the posters and buying the stickers and the board games. It’s easy to get caught up in all that stuff and forget that there’s real talent in the group. … It’s easy to just dismiss it as being kind of a fraud and a sham. But it’s not. It’s based on a group of guys that really, really sing well together.”
As a fun side note, Lachey remembers “definitely not sanctioned merchandise” like 98 Degrees trivia games with most untrue answers being sold back in the day, but he says, “We never did the dolls. We had some dolls that were a prototype for us, and we just couldn’t pull the trigger on it. It looked just a little ridiculous, so we never did that. We had prototypes — I actually still have one [doll] in my office, and it’s pretty wild.” When asked if with some new and improved doll technology, 98 Degrees action figures could be manufactured now to promote the group’s 2021 music and tour, Lachey jokes, “Um, we may not like how the dolls look now — because we don’t like how we look now! That’s a problem now! They could be incredibly accurate, but we still wouldn’t like them.”
Lachey continues more seriously, “As all this comes back, maybe you do have more of an appreciation for it. … These [boy bands] are groups that were kind of formed in the vision of the old Motown groups. It’s funny — I even see Boyz II Men called a ‘boy band’ sometimes, and I would never think of them as a boy band. But that term, it’s kind of changed its definition over the years, and I do think there’s more of a respect and appreciation for groups like that now than ever before.”
Lachey is experiencing his own groundswell of new respect as the Golden Mask trophy recipient of The Masked Singer Season 5, because his winning, genre-hopping performances have reminded more casual fans that the TV personality is, first and foremost, an actually spectacular vocalist. “I don’t know if that was a motivation,” says Lachey, when asked if he went on The Masked Singer with something to prove. However, he admits, “It’s a nice kind of side effect of it, for sure. It’s nice to remind people. I mean, it’s where I started in this business, and it’s definitely what I love to do. I’ve been lucky to do some of the other things — I enjoy hosting and I enjoy doing other things in this entertainment world — but singing is really where it comes back to for me. … I take pride in being a singer and singing well, so I just wanted to make it to the finals.”
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The above interview is taken from Nick Lachey’s appearance on the SiriusXM Volume show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation will air May 28.