The Masked Singer‘s Rhino had perfect pitch… just not the kind that was going to help him win Fox’s loopy singing competition.
After all, Barry Zito, formerly of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, is a Cy Young Award winner known for his cutter-slider. In his post-baseball career, he’s also a singer/songwriter currently living and playing music in Nashville. But at the end of Wednesday’s episode, Rhino — and Zito with him — was booted during the Season 3 semifinals. (Read a full recap here.)
TVLine chatted with Zito Wednesday about lasting longer on the show than a Grammy winner did, not being able to bring his guitar up on stage with him (really) and loving “Copacabana.”
TVLINE | You are very musical, you sing, you play guitar, but did you think you’d make it this far in the competition?
No, absolutely not. I remember watching some of the performances, because I’m a huge fan. And Antonio Brown, who is one of my favorite athletes — as an avid Fantasy Football player [Laughs] — Antonio went on there, sang the Bobby Brown song, got eliminated. So I was like, OK man, my goal is to make it further than Antonio Brown, one of my heroes. So when I made it through that first round, I was so stoked. And then I just became more and more shocked every time that I was going further and further. Of course, I didn’t know who was getting unmasked every episode. They keep it all secret. Now, looking back, like, “Oh my gosh, Chaka Khan?!” I’m sitting there going, “Oh, wow.”
TVLINE | How does the feeling of going out for your first Major League Baseball start compare to the first time you had to go out in the Rhino costume and sing in front of the Masked Singer audience?
It was terrifying. I’ve been on stage before, but it was comfortable: I was singing songs that I’d written and I was with an acoustic guitar, which I’ve been playing forever. So, very comfortable. On stage, singing “Have a Little Faith in Me,” a John Hiatt song, with all the fancy lights and the fog. It was really scary. It was. But huge growth and personal transformation always comes from doing things that scare me. And I realized that. That was a huge takeaway from the show that I’ll always have now in my heart. But that first episode, my gosh. I had huge jitters, freakin’ out. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Did you have any songs going in that you really wanted to do?
Yeah. They told me to send them a Spotify playlist, and I sent them some older songs — like Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” I was fighting hard for that song. They were like, “We love this song, but we don’t know if anybody else will.” — but I got to sing a lot of the songs that I wanted to sing. I’ve released music that’s been a little more acoustic, country-ish sounding. But I love pop music, so I really wanted to sing some pop songs. They agreed to let me sing the Niall Horan “Nice to Meet Ya” and then Jonas Brothers’ “What a Man Gotta Do” and so these are really incredible moments for me, onstage, to be able to sing those kind of songs. I just love that kind of music.
TVLINE | You live in Nashville. What’s your preferred type of venue? Are you a Bluebird, songwriter-in-the-round type of guy? Do you get more of a kick from bigger crowds?
I’ve played writers’ rounds in town, and The Bluebird’s been — I mean, The Bluebird’s just the quintessential, right? As a songwriter? Super cool. It’s literally about as big as anybody’s living room, and you’re just sitting in the middle of the room, right between people at their tables. There’s no stage. I mean, there is a stage, but you don’t sit there when you play a round. And then more as an artist I’ve played some really amazing venues in the Bay Area, San Francisco. Sweetwater [Music Hall] is a really great one that I’ve played. But for me, if it was a dream to play, certainly The Ryman would be the one. The Ryman is the most magical place ever.
TVLINE | I noticed that this week Rhino had a guitar.
TVLINE | I also noticed that with those gloves, there’s no way you could actually play it. And there were no chord changes during the song. I know you play: Did that kill you, to not be able to do so?
[Laughs] Oh man, that would’ve been cool. Yeah, I would’ve loved to have played that. That’s a simple song, at least chord-wise, “Humble and Kind.” And I was not doing the chord changes. I mean, keeping the mask from not knocking the microphone stand over, that was the challenge.
TVLINE | No shame! That was not at all a criticism. But I was wondering if it bugged you. Did you talk to the show’s producers at all about accompanying yourself on guitar?
I did. They were like, “Would you be open to playing your guitar on stage?” I was like, “Oh gosh, that would make me more comfortable than less, to be able to play the instrument.” But obviously, they would’ve had to paint my hands the color of the Rhino’s skin or whatever. I don’t know. But it was super fun to play that and then come away from the microphone stand and throw the guitar back around my shoulder. That was super fun. I actually would’ve been more comfortable playing the instrument.
TVLINE | Did you pull on any of your mental or physical baseball training during your time on the show?
Oh yeah, 100 percent. Definitely more the mental, psychological. I had some huge ups and probably even bigger downs in my career, and I think the downs were as a result of going out there to perform and really needing the performance to be something in particular versus just do your best, have fun, all the clichés that are actually true wisdom, I’m realizing now. So when I went on stage in the Rhino costume, I knew that if I was like, “I’m here to win! I’m gonna dominate!,” those are things that I can’t guarantee and I can’t control. And most likely that would lead to a miserable experience, if I didn’t get those things. So I just tried to stay in the moment, do as good as I could do, be as honest as I could, delivering those lyrics and being connected to the lyric, every word, and I just knew if I could do that and give the rest up to the baseball gods, the Masked Singer gods, and let it happen. I was actually shocked that I went as far as I did.