"As I was walking up, they go, 'By the way, you're a wildcard,'" the Sugar Ray frontman tells PEOPLE of his experience on the reality singing competition

By Dana Rose Falcone
April 15, 2021 11:00 AM
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Orca and Mark McGrath
Orca and Mark McGrath
| Credit: FOX; Gabe Ginsberg/Getty

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

Mark McGrath killed it as a killer whale on The Masked Singer season 5, but unfortunately not for long enough to proceed to the Super 8.

The Sugar Ray frontman, 53, got unmasked as Orca on Wednesday's episode of the reality singing competition. But still, "it was such an incredible experience being part of the Masked Singer family, from the second we took the first Zoom meeting to the second I was eliminated," McGrath, who entered in week 3 as the show's first-ever wildcard contestant, tells PEOPLE. "I took off my Orca costume for the last time and I almost started crying. You get emotionally involved in this thing."

Viewers saw that when the former Extra host choked up Wednesday night after dedicating his performance of Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" to his late father.

"My dad was my hero," McGrath, a father himself to 10-year-old twins Hartley and Lydon, recalls. "He wasn't into music, but my dad was the biggest supporter of our band since day one. There was no bigger fan."

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McGrath's final clue package also featured his dad (as a mustached Orca!), and luckily for the former Celebrity Apprentice participant, Masked Singer contestants don't get to see the videos beforehand. "I'm glad I didn't see before I performed because I would have been a wreck," he admits.

The "Fly" singer talks coming in as a wildcard contestant, trying to rock out as Orca and getting back on tour now that he received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Why did you want to go on The Masked Singer?
The show scared the living hell out of me, if I can be so blunt. Because, ironically, it's a singing competition. And yes, I make my living as a singer/entertainer, but no one has ever confused my voice with Pavarotti or Chris Cornell. The mask is the reason why I went into it. I said, "Well, maybe I can throw some people off. I can do songs maybe that are normally out of my wheelhouse. The costume will bring me up, which it certainly did." Even at my age, things that scare you, you must do.

What did your kids think of you doing the show?
I've got 10-year-old twins too that just were blown away. They're so blown away. We watched the first, you know, my first performance, you know, they go, "Orca's cool. Yeah, Orca is really cool. Yeah, he's really cool."

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How did singing under the Orca costume differ from how you're used to performing?
It's a central costume. [I thought] it's going to change the tonality, it just has to. There's no way it couldn't. But I really have to hand it to the audio team over there at The Masked Singer. They are such professionals. I thought maybe they track it, [but they] absolutely sing live. And I was blown away by how well it sounds. They know what costumes need more oomph, more bass, more treble. I don't want to bore you the with the technophile stuff, but they really are on it. So that was my big concern and it was immediately alleviated. But two, I am 53 years old, so a little bit of rock has left my roll. I thought I was rocking a lot harder than I actually was.

ORCA
Credit: FOX

You're known for your '90s hits, but you performed two '80s songs. Was that a conscious choice?
The first thing I wanted to do, I said, "You know what, I just need to dig into my bag of tricks and things that are at least in my wheelhouse." I don't think people look at Sugar Ray as a hard rock band. Certainly not the radio songs and certainly not the music most people have heard. Though the origin of this band comes from a hard rock background, so it's something I can do. And I said, "Let's come out with 'We're Not Gonna Take It.' Everybody loves it. And I think people won't think it's me singing it." That was kind of the idea. I wasn't going to throw my voice or try and change my voice because it is what it is. So I just went full bore rock and roll. I didn't know about the wildcard.

When did you find out?
As I was walking up, they go, "By the way, you're a wildcard. We're not having a C group." I'm like, "What?" They keep everybody in the dark. That wildcard thing kind of surprised me.

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In your first clue package, you talked about delivering your audition tape in pizza boxes. Looking back, can you believe that worked?
We thought we were the biggest geniuses in the world. We made a video and we sent it to everybody. And [music producer] Rick Rubin called us back and said, "Listen, I love the pizza box idea. Do you guys want to come work for my street marketing team?" And we're like, "We're trying to be a band." Luckily, it got in the hands of some other guy at Atlantic Records and we got a record deal because of the pizza box.

But come to find out 20, 30 years later, the pizza box idea is not a unique idea. Rami Malek, he did that for his audition tape back in the day. And I watched a corporate speech for a bunch of advertisers. I told them of the pizza box story. And this guy in the audience raises his hand. He goes, "Yeah. We call that Sorry Advertising 101." It's been done a million times but we were the first people to do it. It was a stroke of genius back then that people picked up on.

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What's next for you? In February, you tweeted that you'd be interested in hosting Jeopardy!  
I threw my name out there to host Jeopardy!, [had] a couple of my fans saying, "You'd be great." But let's just say, I didn't hear from the Jeopardy! folks. It was a long shot. As the three-time Rock & Roll Jeopardy! champion, I thought I would qualify. But they had different ideas. That's the gig everybody who has ever hosted a show in the world wanted to get. And no one will ever be as good as Alex [Trebek]. But I love the show and my mom loves the show too.

But you have started performing live shows again with concerts in Florida this month.
We're so grateful to be getting back on the road. We're vaccinated, things are opening up and we're getting back to normal. You notice a change. People are socially distancing and everybody's being safe and doing their thing and wearing masks. But it's still rock and roll. It's still live entertainment. And we will get back to where we need to be, slowly but surely. It's going to be a new normal for sure, but I'm looking forward to getting back out there and playing. Once you've been on stage, it's just electrifying. I'm so grateful to be up there.

The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on Fox.