Actress/Singer Alicia Witt Goes Behind ‘The Masked Singer’ and Her EP ‘Witness’

Alicia Witt has always been a powerful storyteller. Having been discovered by renowned filmmaker David Lynch when she was just eight years old, he cast her in Dune in 1984. It served as a launching pad for Witt’s illustrious career as an actor, with appearances in Orange is the New Black, The Walking Dead, Two and a Half Men, and much more. She got to flex her musical talents on season nine of The Masked Singer disguised as the Dandelion. All the while, she’s been an active singer-songwriter and pianist who’s released several EPs, her latest being Witness, which was released in August 2023. 

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Witt has had a well of stories to pull from. She overcame breast cancer in April 2022, months after the devastating loss of her parents, who died in December 2021 from cardiac arrhythmias due to extremely cold temperatures in their Massachusetts home. In an expansive interview with American Songwriter, Witt talks about Witness, her transformative time on The Masked Singer, and how her parents are still a part of her story. 

American Songwriter: How did you end up on The Masked Singer? What made you want to take this opportunity?

Alicia Witt: I ended up on The Masked Singer from the producers [who] reached out to my agent. I don’t know how they found me or what it was that inclined them to ask me, but I know that they do their due diligence and they love to dig into people’s backgrounds. When they invited me to be on the show, they already knew so many details about me and so many misdirects that they were going to use to try to get the audience to guess that I might be somebody else.

I didn’t have to think very hard about saying yes to The Masked Singer. It felt like an immediate, “What a gift that’s going to be one of the best things I could possibly do with my time.” I didn’t know just what a gift it would be. Forget about the gift of getting to sing in front of people and expose a new audience to my music, which is a dream, but also just the ability to connect with people using nothing but my voice, and to have your entire identity concealed…All you have is a voice…It’s just a gift as a human being. It was utter magic. 

AS: You mentioned that being part of that show had deep and specific resonance as a musician. What do you mean by that?

AW: Being on The Masked Singer has forever changed the way I think about my voice and the way I think about singing. The thing I’ve always loved the most and been drawn to the most about writing songs is all about the connection for me. As an actor, I’m connecting with people in a completely different way, because I’m playing characters. And the thing that’s most fun about that is that it isn’t me and I can do and say all sorts of things that I would never say. 

But a song, you have this ability to tell a story, and if you do it right, you tell it in such a way that everyone listening might feel it’s their story…So getting to play at a live show and connect with people through a song feels like the ultimate form of bringing people together and reaching somebody’s heart. Having had that experience of connecting with nothing but my voice as a stranger, has freed me up as a singer in a way I couldn’t have predicted. 

I hear the voice coming out of me and it reminds me of singing under the mask, the feeling I had when my voice was all I had…So it helps me to stop thinking about all the little things you think of as a singer…It doesn’t really matter so much what the mechanics are of the voice. It’s more about just using the voice as a means to bring everybody in that room together.

[RELATED: Alicia Witt on the Actors Strike: “The Streamers Need to Share”]

AS: How did your experience on The Masked Singer impact the writing for your EP, Witness?

AW: Four of the songs on the EP were not written until after I was on The Masked Singer. It put a sense of urgency on it because I knew when the episode was going to air in which my identity was revealed…I recorded another song which had been written eight years ago, and then several writer friends of mine agreed to help. We went back and forth while I was still actively filming The Masked Singer, as well as the other project. I sent several sets of unfinished lyrics to a number of different writers that I love collaborating with, and that was great because they were able to continue working on them when I didn’t have time. When I got back to Nashville and we ironed them out—one of them, “Always Tuesday,” I wrote by myself—came out of the blue for me. I don’t even feel like I wrote it, I feel like it arrived somehow.

AS: I want to ask about “Clever Mind” because I know you got to work with Tia Sellers, who co-wrote “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. “Clever Mind” was written years ago, what made you want to put it on this EP now?

AW: I wanted to record “Clever Mind” because of all the songs I could think of that had to do with witnessing something, this song was specifically written from the imagined perspective of a woman who was one of the other women in a relationship. I didn’t know that there were other women at the time I was in the relationship. But once I discovered what was going on and promptly ended this said relationship, I was particularly struck by one of the several who had been in the mix for quite a while. I started thinking, “What was she thinking? What was he telling her? What would make somebody stay in such a blatantly powerless and demeaning situation?”

I thought then of a few people I’d known who had described to me being the other woman and I had this idea. I started writing some lyrics, and the first line…was Is this what you call a clever mind / Same broken record up all night. I had a whole lot of lyrics, but I also knew, as I do sometimes that it was a really good idea, but what I was coming up with on my own wasn’t the best it could be. So somebody I knew introduced me to Tia and Mark via email, and to my amazement, they agreed to write with me, which was just such an honor.

We got together and I kind of trepidatiously mentioned my idea because writing a song about an affair from another woman’s perspective with a married couple, I didn’t know how that was gonna go over, but they were really into it. We just put ourselves in her shoes and we wrote this song quite quickly…It’s everything I always dreamed it would be. I love this recording, I’m so proud of it, and I’m so proud to have this song that they wrote together out in the world.

AS: You’ve overcome a lot of challenges over the past couple of years—you recovered from breast cancer right after you had the tragic loss of your parents. You wrote a beautiful tribute to them that said, “Beginning the rest of my life of finding them on the breeze, in a song, in a dream.” Have you found them in a song yet? Have they shown up in a song on the EP?

AW: My parents show up all the time. They’ve always been my biggest fans without question and I feel them with me now constantly, but in spirit form. It’s almost like you can call them in and they’re there and show up when I need them. I will always miss them more than words can say, but to know that they are here and to feel their pride and support, it’s really a beautiful thing to feel like they’re there with me whenever I’m in a situation like a performance.

My grandparents were already incredibly present, spiritually…my other grandparents all show up in different ways as well…These people are all not only spirits around me, but they’re in me, physically. So it’s a blessing to get to be here and to do them all proud and to go forth and put their legacy into music.

Photo by Jeff Fasano/Courtesy of Alicia Witt

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