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Night Owl Talks ‘Masked Singer’ Exit After Swooping In Last-Minute: ‘I Will Be That Go-To Girl’

todayFebruary 22, 2023 3

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Spoiler alert: This story contains information about contestants eliminated on Wednesday’s (Feb. 22) episode of The Masked Singer.

The latest episode of The Masked Singer‘s ninth season had way more drama than viewers saw onscreen Wednesday night. Not only did returning champ Medusa absolutely crush it again on the ABBA-themed night, but Night Owl also flew in and wowed the judges with her killer vocals and moves while rocking “Fernando” after getting the call less than 24 hours earlier to fill in for a sick contestant.

“I literally did the math and I had 16 hours’ notice… so I decided not to overthink it,” the veteran singer, actress, Broadway star and reality competition judge/contestant tells Billboard about the eleventh-hour invite to save the day. The judges had some pretty good ideas about who she was, guessing everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker (Ken Jeong, wrong, wrong, wrong, of course) and Paula Abdul to The Go-Gos’ Belinda Carlisle, Cyndi Lauper or Kylie Minogue.


The Night Owl impressed, but she would have to soar even higher in the Battle Royale showdown with Medusa, during which both had to tackle “The Winner Takes It All.” She put some serious emotion into the ABBA favorite from a vocalist who the clue package told us was a “pop princess OG.”

Well, that was all you needed to know to figure out that panelist Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg was right all along: Night Owl was, indeed, OG pop royalty Debbie Gibson.

Billboard spoke to Gibson before her elimination and found out how her mother’s death inspired her to get in the game, what a 17-year-old Debbie would have thought about her being on a reality singing show, and what fans can expect on her upcoming The Body Remembers Tour.

Had you ever seen the show before you signed up?

I’ve had so many friends on the show — Joey Fatone, Donny Osmond, LeAnn Rimes — and when they called, I ended up filling in for somebody. I knew [someday] I would possibly do the show and that I could say no and properly prepare and do all that and still only last one episode. [But] I decided this would be my moment and this would be my way to do the show and, to quote P!nk, do a trust fall and be rock ‘n’ roll and show up not knowing anything about what I would be doing. I took a flight from New York to Las Vegas and I was on the plane when the call came in, I came home and unpacked and repacked and the driver in the car heard us making arrangements and said he could drive me to L.A. During the ride I got calls from wardrobe and they were like, “How about ‘Fernando?’” I just kept saying yes and laughing because it was so ridiculous.

Were you scared, excited?

I was so amped up and I had no idea how my voice would present itself. It was the one-year anniversary of losing my mom and I was in the Newark airport and I honored my Italian heritage and my mom by having pizza for lunch — I was done singing for the year and wasn’t going to start up again until [my upcoming] tour — so I was a vocalist letting her hair down, having pizza and a Coke, getting on a dry airplane and just crying. Just letting myself so far off the hook and [saying] “whatever happens happens.” I was here to fill a niche because someone fell ill on this multimillion-dollar production and I will be that go-to girl and giggle my way through the day and do my best.

And why the Night Owl?

She is nocturnal and I’m normally in bed with my dogs by 7 p.m. I have a song “Who Loves Ya Baby,” and in that song I wing “Who, who, who loves ya baby?” and that was reason enough to be Night Owl. I pieced it together and the metallic body suit reminded me of my Liberace piano and the Thierry Mugler bodysuit Madonna wore. I was in Beauty and the Beast [on Broadway], and I had this giant dress and wig, and this costume was way heavier because all the weight was on the shoulders.  

You’ve done music, acting, Broadway and some reality TV (The Apprentice, Dancing With the Stars, Skating With the Stars), but is it safe to say this was one of the more unusual gigs you’ve had? 

That’s what was so fun about it! I’ve made a deal with myself to be super present in this chapter of my life. I’ve been a mentor and a judge on American Juniors. I’ve sat where the judges sat, but in this moment, in this costume, I was thinking every reason I wanted to get into showbiz is happening right now: I’m playing dress-up, there’s a mystery involved, I’m singing and dancing and surprising people. People love the show because it has magic to it and it’s very wholesome. It’s like being a child and playing dress-up. It’s one of the more refreshing gigs I’ve done.

Do you think 17-year-old Debbie would ever imagine you’d be singing ABBA in an owl costume at this juncture in your career?

[Laughs] Coming from the theater, I didn’t rule anything out. Coming from the ’80s pop music scene I didn’t have these kinds of reality shows, so never in my wildest dreams would I think that these shows could be a career game-changer. You have to get over the idea that you have to be a rock star at all times. It’s fun, why not?

Did you want to win though?

I didn’t have time to think about wanting to win. I honestly really wanted to get through the day. I didn’t know how I could stand, let alone sing, at the end of the day coming from the day I had before. When I saw and heard Medusa and her lovely energy, she was just super respectful and we were rooting for each other — I wanted her to have it. Whoever this is has been preparing for a long time.

It felt like Jenny was on to you pretty early, but they also threw out Sarah Jessica Parker, Paula Abdul, Belinda Carlisle, Kylie Minogue and Cyndi Lauper, all of whom are nothing to sneeze at.

I thought the Kylie one was the best, because with Kylie, I do feel like we are separated at birth, like sisters from across the world. I always jokingly say that what the world needs to do is find Carrie Bradshaw’s long-lost sister — Sarah [Jessica Parker] and I are long-lost sisters as well.

I don’t know who Medusa is either, but that Battle Royale on “The Winner Takes It All” was super intense. What was your strategy?

My strategy is always to just be me. I was going to sing that pretty straight ahead and didn’t have time to figure out how I would finesse it. One of the things that always connected me to my audience from the time I was young was I open my mouth and sing and I don’t overthink it. Sing the lyrics, tell the story and open up and let it come out. That’s what I felt like I did.

You announced that you’re going on an encore run of The Body Remembers Tour. Talk to me about the fan reaction to that and what they can expect. 

For people who haven’t seen me perform in a long time, I’m a very raw performer and I play for a long time. I get the curfew-time hook a lot, and that’s what I did — I really poured myself out onto the stage — and that’s what I will do again. I released this album [The Body Remembers] a year ago, and I watch contemporaries like Shania Twain and Janet [Jackson], who are on major labels and doing Live Nation tours, and I haven’t done it that way. I’m so specific on how I like to use my energy. I don’t want creative input. I’ve done it my way and I’m so proud of that. This tour is such a reflection of that. It’s nostalgia, you’ve got old and new, and it’s my audience, my generation, and everyone is experiencing a renaissance — people are vital and vibrant at 40-50 — and they want their artists to be like that and to experience that energy in the room.

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