It’s one of the most bizarre yet brilliant reality shows we’ve seen in a while. And that’s really saying something. Yes, ITV’s The Masked Singer has served as the perfect antidote to the January slump. The concept? Well, take 12 well-known singers, disguise them in masks, watch them perform songs on a weekly show and whittle them down to one winner. Their identity can only be revealed once they are out of the competition or, in Nicola Roberts’ case, when they win.
Over the weekend, the former Girls Aloud singer – who donned the disguise of Queen Bee – won the competition with her incredible vocals. She beat Hedgehog, otherwise known as the comedian Jason Manford. Roberts, the audience and the judges were all clearly delighted with the result. But part of the singer’s reaction to winning has highlighted the issue of how female artists in the industry are still constantly scrutinised for how they look and perform while simply doing their job.
Speaking to the BBC, Roberts called the experience of performing with a disguise as “freeing” and “liberating” before explaining: “In the sense that when you perform normally it’s like, ‘What am I gonna wear? How is my hair? Is my makeup right? Oh my God, I’m so pale the light is horrific for me, this is awful!’”
She then added: “I was actually nervous to take the mask off because I was like, ‘Oh God, are people going to be happy? All that went into it, it was just a really crazy, crazy night.”
These words are particularly poignant as Roberts has opened up before about how she was bullied while growing up for having “pale skin”.
Speaking to Stylist, she said: “I used to be hugely insecure about being pale… I always felt that people found women more attractive if they were tanned and there are some parts where I’m so pale, I’m blue and see-through.”
This led the singer to become an anti-bullying campaigner, and she was one of the activists who fought to change the laws around minors and tanning beds. Since campaigning in 2010, the Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill – which prevents under 18s from using sunbeds – has been passed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Roberts has also previously talked about how bullying comments about her led to depression and rehab.
This type of social media and tabloid scrutiny – over how a female performer looks when she’s on stage – is something that Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson exposed in a BBC Three documentary last year. In an accompanying Instagram post of an old photograph of herself, Nelson explained: “This girl was someone I just wanted to forget, I wanted to erase her from my mind and everyone else’s memory. I didn’t see her as Jesy, I saw her as ‘the fat one from Little Mix’. Up until now I hated her not because she’d ever done anything bad but because I was made to hate her by endless amounts of trolling.”
And singer/songwriter Kate Nash has recently talked about how she was labelled as “too fat” and “too ugly” to be a successful popstar.
Roberts has clearly come a long way in calling out bullying and supporting others who experience it (not that she should have to feel the need to even do that). But her subtle comments about how she still worries about how she looks on stage prove just how deep trolls can cut with their words.
Next up, Roberts is set to make her theatre debut in a production of City of Angels. We can wait to see her, knowing exactly who she is and celebrating the talent she possesses.