Like a dream come true, Brian McKnight competed on The Masked Dancer.
"I got to be in the public's eye again in this magnitude, which I hadn't been in quite some time, so I'm really grateful for the opportunity," the Grammy-nominated singer, who was unmasked as Cricket on Wednesday's episode, tells PEOPLE.
McKnight, 51, didn't even mind that judge Paula Abdul guessed him after the father of four gave his final performance to Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It."
"I wasn't that surprised," he says. "When I saw my clues during rehearsal, I said, if somebody is relatively astute, which she is, they will probably guess me. They were pretty obvious [clues]. It's nice to know that she's a fan and see that she knew those things."
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The "Back at One" crooner shares why he ended up doing The Masked Dancer rather than The Masked Singer, how it felt to be guessed as an Olympic swimmer and whether fans will see him breaking out Cricket's moves at his next concert.
Why did you pick the Cricket costume?
When the producers and I sat down and thought about the character, they showed me what they were working with and it just seemed like, for my body type and the kind of person that I am, that seemed to be the one that spoke to me the most.
Paula didn't expect you to do The Masked Dancer, but is there a side to you that people don't know?
Not necessarily. I think when I was asked to do this, the thing that appealed to me — because I'm not a dancer — is that nobody would know that it was me. It's really kind of cool. There's no way I would've done this without a mask on.
How did your Masked Dancer experience differ from your normal performances?
Being on stage and singing my songs is second nature. Having to know steps and do these dance moves so that the whole world will scrutinize them, but at the same time they're not knowing that it's me, is kind of a weird play on your emotions and your feelings. You want to do it well, you want to do it right, but if you don't, they don't know who you are until they know; and will they remember that you messed up? I just wanted to be as good as I could be under the circumstance. You go out there and do your best.
Can fans expect to see some Cricket dance moves when you can get back on tour?
We always do some dance, definitely move around and get some energy up, but nothing quite as elaborate as I did on this show. I won't be doing any of the Cricket moves necessarily, but I do have much more of an appreciation for people who dance professionally, especially for the folks who were our backup dancers on that show. They were incredible. They were dancing with everybody on the show and I can't imagine the amount of commitment and energy it takes for them. My hat goes off to them for sure.
Panelist Ken Jeong said he expected to see you on Masked Singer, so how did you end up on Dancer instead?
That's just the show that called me. Even when I got the call I was like, I can imagine that there are lots of celebrities like myself who are sitting at home going, well, how come I haven't been called to do that so or how come I haven't been called to do this show? You finally get that call to be on [one of] the biggest shows on television, on the one hand, you are happy, but you'll also take whichever one they're going to give you. I was honored to be on there.
Did you see that lot of people thought you were Serpent on The Masked Singer? It ended up being The Singing Surgeon, Dr. Elvis.
I did see on Twitter that people were saying that that was me. I wanted to get a chance to listen to see if this person actually sounds like me because that would be interesting, but I haven't so I should probably go back and take a look at that.
What did you think of the judges guessing Olympic gold medalists Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps for you?
I was actually flattered by that. At 51 years old, when somebody thinks that I'm looking like an Olympic swimmer, my wife who takes care of me must be doing a fantastic job.
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Did you do anything to physically prepare for the show?
Not necessarily. I think staying in relatively good shape all the time is a good idea, but I didn't do anything specific for this show. But believe me, the rehearsals we did for the show was like going to the gym for six hours a day.
Still, it must have been a nice break from being home.
It was fun to do that. It was fun to really see how these shows are made especially during a pandemic. All of the safety protocols that were in place, it was like being in a military barrack. They didn't spare on any of the details when it came to testing and making sure everybody was socially distancing. It was really run well.
On the show, you called your wife of three years, Leilani, your source of confidence. How does she inspire you?
I really don't know where I would be had it not been for my wife Leilani. It used to be about my career, about furthering it and Brian McKnight, but since I've gotten married, it's only been about living with and for her. She is truly everything to me.
Where can people catch you post-Masked Dancer?
There's a Valentine's virtual show I'm doing with my friend Dave Koz on Feb. 13, but other than that, we're just hoping that the vaccine, with the advances we're hopefully making, that at some point this year things will be relatively back to normal.
The Masked Dancer airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on Fox.
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