JoJo Says Tori Kelly Inspired Her to Go on 'The Masked Singer' as Black Swan — Despite Her Stage Fright

The "Leave (Get Out)" singer placed second on season 5 of the Fox reality competition

The Masked Singer -- Black Swan -- JoJo
Photo: Michael Becker/FOX; Michael Tran/Getty

This post contains spoilers from Wednesday's finale of The Masked Singer.

JoJo did not leave The Masked Singer season 5 until the very end.

The "Baby It's You" singer, 30, took second place on Wednesday after performing as Black Swan, although she didn't anticipate making it that far in the competition.

"I had no expectation of even making it past the first episode," JoJo tells PEOPLE. "Truly every single time I was up there for elimination, I was like, 'Okay, this is it. I'm going home.' Because as a fan, I've seen some of the best singers in the world not win the show."

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JoJo credits her current mental state to appearing on series as Black Swan.

"She gave me the confidence to step out and just do what I've done since I was little," the former child star says. "I started the show off feeling one way and by the end I felt so accomplished and proud of myself. It brought me so much light and so much joy. I truly don't think that I would be in this mental place that I'm in had it not been for me saying 'yes' to The Masked Singer."

The Masked Singer -- Black Swan
Michael Becker/FOX

JoJo's Masked Singer journey didn't come without any challenges, though, particularly stage frieght and the claustrophobia that came with singing under a bulky costume. But "I'm really grateful that I didn't let my insecurities — my thoughts about 'how this come across?" — stop me," she continues. "That I faced the fear, even with the stage fright and feeling like I didn't know how to breathe inside there, it was a really positive thing."

JoJo shares the celebrity friend who encouraged her to come on the show, her thoughts on return to acting and the one Masked Singer clue even she didn't pick up on.

Why did you push yourself to overcome your fears and perform on The Masked Singer?

Because I loved last season. And when I found out my friend Tori Kelly was on it and then when she was unmasked [as Seahorse], I got to ask her about it. Because [beforehand] she was very tight-lipped about it. Her response really made me feel like it was something that I wanted to do. She had so much fun she said it really allowed her to loosen up and play, and I wanted a chance to do that too. There was some stage fright I developed even before the pandemic, more so during this time of not performing. I was really excited about the opportunity to be on a stage and to have it be about singing again, which is what started me wanting to get into a career in music as a little girl.

Seahorse; Tori Kelly. Michael Becker/FOX; Tibrina Hobson/Getty

Did Tori guess you were Black Swan this time around?

She did text me a couple times, but I gave the same energy that she gave me. I was like, "Girl, everybody's hitting me up asking if I am." I was talking around it. I'm really terrible at lying.

What were you feeling when judges Nicole Scherzinger and Robin Thicke guessed you?

I felt like Robin and Nicole would know from the jump because I know them both. Robin had guessed me on prior seasons so I was like, is he manifesting me being on the show? I felt seen; I felt excited that they knew it was me, even though I did want to throw them off and I thought the song choices were kind of doing that.

How did those unique arrangements of the popular songs you sang come together?

I love the arrangements and I can't take credit for that. Miguel Gandelman, the MD [music director] at The Masked Singer, we worked so well together bringing creativity to all these arrangements. A lot of the songs were things that I wanted to sing, favorites of mine, but one of my favorites was something that he brought to me that I wouldn't have thought of, because I can't remember every single song that's ever been written. He brought me the Kings of Leon song ["Use Somebody"] and that ended up being one of my favorite things that we did on the show. We talked about what key we wanted to try and sometimes I would give him ideas of songs and vibes. Like, okay let's try to do this song in the spirit of this other song, which was great mashing those things up.

What was it like singing under the Black Swan costume?

For the first couple weeks that I was in her, my neck hurt, to be honest with you. I was like, why am I being such a little bitch about this? Why am I sore? It was not something that I expected. It's definitely heavy. I was scared in there because I didn't realize I was a little bit claustrophobic. Figuring out how to breathe, how to sing in that thing was definitely different. I would sing into my pillow sometimes to practice and I would sing on the treadmill because I got winded so much more easily in that costume.

Can you reveal the connection to Cher that you teased on the show?

I thought that was a reach. I really wasn't sure where that was from. I am obsessed with her. She is an absolute icon. I think it was because I impersonated Cher on TV when I was a kid. She tweeted me a couple times. Of course, I've tweeted her a bunch of times, so maybe it was that. I really don't know.

RELATED VIDEO: JoJo Reveals Clinical Depression Diagnosis: 'Sometimes We Just Need a Little Help'

You hinted in your clue packages about your early days of fame as a teenager. How do you reflect on that period now?

It was a wild time. It was definitely a dream come true because I always wanted to perform for as many people as possible. And by the time I was 13, my first single came out. I was like, it's about time because I've been doing it since I was 6 years old. Starting that young definitely influenced a lot of my insecurities that I have now because when you experience fame and success and adulation that young, you start to think that that's linked to your self-worth. You start comparing your journey to others. It's really hard not to. When I reflect on that time, it's really amazing to think that was how I started off my career and it's also extremely young and impressionable.

What can fans expect from your new music?

The new music is just the best music I've ever made. I really wanted to explore my own roller coaster with mental health and that's what we start to touch upon. Even this first single, "Creature of Habit," is kind of asking questions of, why do I do certain things? Where is this coming from? What does it mean? All the songs don't feel that deep, but at the root, that's where they were made from. Everything is rooted in R&B because that's my foundation, but it's really fun to explore other genres. I wouldn't have been able to make this music if it weren't for The Masked Singer because I really needed to get myself out of this funk. I was in a really grey place, and I feel like this revitalized my creativity.

Can we expect any more acting from you in the future?

Yeah, I would love to. I've been thinking about how I miss that aspect of things. I just moved agencies, so that's top of my priority list. I want to take it more seriously. Who knows what's next, as far as that.

It can be another thing you say "yes" to when the time is right.

My thing is: why not? I'm very happy with how everything turned out [on The Masked Singer]. It was truly the journey for me, and that's what I needed to teach myself, to enjoy the journey. I would encourage anybody that's reading this to say "yes" to things that you know will be good for you even if they scare you a little bit. Just go ahead and dive in. Just give it a shot. I'm glad I did.

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