PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where people who are iconic do something ironic. It's called Not My Job. Our guest this week is a multiplatinum-winning DJ, singer, producer, rapper who's collaborated with everybody from Akon to Taylor Swift, popularized the use of auto-tune in pop music and won the first season of "The Masked Singer." But none of that is important. What's important is that he taped one of the most popular NPR Tiny Desk concerts ever.
T-Pain, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
T-PAIN: Thank you. Thank you.
SAGAL: I love - you are our first guest in 23 years to bring his own sound effects, which is something everybody should've done.
T-PAIN: It's going to be a disaster right off the top. Just going to let you know.
SAGAL: Oh, no. I anticipate very positive things. I got to start by asking you about the NPR concert. You went and did a Tiny Desk concert...
SAGAL: ...In 2015. It became, at that point, the most-watched Tiny Desk concert ever - more than 24 million views, something like that. But I just recently watched it again, and you seem to be a little confused as to where you are when it starts.
T-PAIN: So the story behind that - the look on my face was, one, I'm just naturally ugly. Two, I had no idea what I was doing. You know, my manager was just like, you're going to do NPR. He didn't say, like, you got to, like, sing songs and stuff. They didn't say any of that. They were just like, you got to go do NPR. So I'm like, oh, OK, cool. So I can go hung over, like, freshly smoking cigarettes. I was smoking cigarettes at the time. I've since quit.
SAGAL: Good for you.
T-PAIN: But I really thought I was going to do, like, an interview. And, you know, when you think NPR, you think really close up to the mic talking, and this is how it's going to go this week, and we have T-Pain coming in here. And we - I didn't know what I was going to do. So, yeah, I didn't think that it was going to be 300 people staring at me singing songs with nothing going on and - in anticipation for it to be bad.
SAGAL: And not only - and I love this - was it the most popular Tiny Desk concert ever, but everybody was so blown away that they invited you back to do a concert at NPR on the anniversary.
T-PAIN: And you think I would have been prepared for that one. But guess what?
JOSH GONDELMAN: (Laughter) You were smoking a cigar. You were showing up...
T-PAIN: Yeah, I switched to cigars. No, I'm joking. But no, I had a sinus infection that day.
BRIAN BABYLON: Damn.
AMY DICKINSON: Oh, no.
BABYLON: But isn't a sinus infection just nature's auto-tune?
T-PAIN: I don't think that's how it works. I don't think you know how sinuses work.
SAGAL: Speaking of your voice - so I just watched the big reveal at the end of your season of "The Masked Singer." And you played this monster. And everyone, before you took the head off, was guessing, like, who could it possibly be? And people guessed you were Jamie Fox, and people guessed you were, like, the guy from Hootie and the Blowfish.
SAGAL: They had no idea.
T-PAIN: Said Michael Vick, too. That was crazy.
DICKINSON: That was crazy.
GONDELMAN: (Laughter) That - what an insult for them to guess someone who's not a singer.
DICKINSON: I know.
T-PAIN: Yeah. Like, Jesus. What a way to tell me I sound terrible.
GONDELMAN: Is it Oscar the Grouch in there? What's going on?
T-PAIN: Is that Grover? What the hell is going on?
SAGAL: By the way, you've - if you haven't seen it, you should because you've never experienced true emotion until you watch a man dressed as a one-eyed purple monster, like, breaking your heart with...
T-PAIN: You know what's crazy about that, man? I really - I was trying to have fun with it because when - on paper, the way this show was described to me was, like...
SAGAL: I genuinely wanted to ask - you're T-Pain. You've got Grammy Awards.
SAGAL: You can do anything you want. And they come to you, and they describe it in such a way that you say, yes, I will do this. What did they say?
T-PAIN: OK, full disclosure, I may or may not have been inebriated when they said it.
T-PAIN: And I was just like, yeah, that sounds amazing. And just - but on paper, it sound - OK, so on paper, it felt like, if the judges find out who you are, you've got to leave. And I was like, oh, my voice is so distinctive, they're going to find out first day. Give me the silliest costume you got.
T-PAIN: Just give me the...
SAGAL: Just to get it in, because you're only going to be on one episode.
T-PAIN: Give me the stupidest thing you got. I'm only going to have to do this one time, so I'm fine. And when I got - like, literally a day before, we were talking, and they were saying, no, the - you know, if the judges find out who you are, just don't say anything. You know, just keep going. I was like, wait; so if the judges do find out who I am, I don't have to leave? And they're like, oh, yeah, no. This is all crowd and audience-based. And I was like, oh, how do I get out of my contract?
T-PAIN: And they were like, no. No, no, you can't do that.
GONDELMAN: I'm - I don't mean to be too on the nose about this, but you said you agreed to do "The Masked Singer" while drunk, which means you are literally currently blaming it on the alcohol, which is the greatest T-Pain experience I can ask for.
T-PAIN: I can't even - I can't debate that.
GONDELMAN: I apologize.
T-PAIN: No, that was good. That was amazing.
SAGAL: When the reveal happens at the end of the show, you've been on 10 episodes, you've won this, you've impressed everybody, and you're revealed, and everybody is stunned. Nobody had any idea it was you. And they - and if I may, I don't think they knew it was you because everybody associates you with auto-tune.
SAGAL: So nobody knew how well you sing. And so, like, that brings up this question, which is - you sing absolutely beautifully. You are like, you know..
DICKINSON: Like, I cried. I cried. I cried.
T-PAIN: I cried a little bit, too. I cried, too. That's all right.
SAGAL: So here's a - so with a voice like yours, why did you ever get into auto-tune?
T-PAIN: I just wanted to sound different because, you know, with singing with my natural voice, I'd just be another singer. Like, you know?
SAGAL: Do you enjoy, since so many people know you from the auto-tune numbers some years ago, just laying your real voice on them and just, like, knocking them out?
T-PAIN: I mean, it's kind of the only way I can do it. It wasn't, like - it's not, like, a - you know, it's not, like, a party trick or anything, you know what I'm saying? It's like...
T-PAIN: ...You know, my actual party trick and it's - when it's time to, like, show off...
T-PAIN: ...Birthdays. When it's time to sing "Happy Birthday"...
SAGAL: Is that when you let it rip?
T-PAIN: ...I'm going up top.
GONDELMAN: That's the mark of a good singer, when you can sing "Happy Birthday," and people are like, that guy's good. He's really good.
SAGAL: That guy's good. That guy's good.
BABYLON: He has range. Now, that's some range.
T-PAIN: It's the last one. It's that last (singing) happy birthday to you. And you've got to, like - you've got to (vocalizing) Or if everybody - if there's, like, a bunch of singers, I'll, like, throw a harmony in. (Singing) Happy birthday to you. Like, you know, I'd go - that's my time to shine. I know exactly where it's going. I know nobody else is going to divert from the standard cadence. I mean, you know, most people are like, who are you? And why are you at my child's birthday party? But, you know, it's not - you know...
GONDELMAN: Is that T-Pain in this Chuck E. Cheese waiting for someone to start to singing?
SAGAL: Well, T-Pain, we are having too much fun, but we have work to do. We have asked you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: The Half-Masked Singer.
SAGAL: By which, of course, we mean the Phantom of the Opera, star of a novel and some really good movies, an inexplicably popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. So we're going to ask you three questions about the Phantom of the Opera, the guy with the half mask. And if you get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, the voice of anyone they might choose in their voicemail. Bill, who is T-Pain playing for?
KURTIS: Erica Roman of Oak Park, Ill.
SAGAL: Oh, I wonder where that is. All right. Here's your first question. The star of "The Phantom Of The Opera" is, of course, the Phantom of the Opera. Though it's never mentioned in the musical, he has a name. What is it? Is it A, Le Comte du Merde de les Chantueses; B, Chevalier Maurice Berkowitz; or C, Erik?
T-PAIN: Oh, it's Erik. It's Erik for sure.
SAGAL: It is Erik. You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
T-PAIN: Yes. Boom. Boom.
SAGAL: (Laughter) All right. Here's your next question. Now, the show is the most successful in the history of Broadway, but it has a sequel, "Love Never Dies," and it did not have the same success. In fact, it was delayed for six months because what happened? A, one day, Andrew Lloyd Webber suddenly realized all of his music is terrible; B, his cat walked across his keyboard and erased the entire score; or C, he was sued by a fan who said she had already written the sequel in which the Phantom becomes a superhero called Opera Man?
T-PAIN: The cat.
SAGAL: You're going to go for the cat - the cat walking across the keyboard?
T-PAIN: I'm going with the cat.
SAGAL: You're going to go with the cat. You're right again. That's what happened.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)
T-PAIN: Let's go.
SAGAL: We're counting down to the last question. Here we go. Now, the show is famous for its big, elaborate stage effects, but things don't always go right. For example, what happened at a single production in Los Angeles? A, a lit candle rose from the floor and went right up the Phantom's pants leg; B, a corpse dropped from the rafters right in the middle of the big love song; or C, the gondola in the famous lake scene went berserk and started speeding around, so the phantom grabbed Christine and just ran for it?
T-PAIN: I'm going to - you know what? The fact that I got the two right already, which qualifies the whole thing, I'm going to wild card it right now. C.
SAGAL: It was C.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: It was also B and A.
T-PAIN: Boom. Let's go.
SAGAL: All three of them happened.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)
T-PAIN: Let's go. Let's go. I know what happens when things on stage go wrong. You can't let anybody else know.
BABYLON: You've got to swallow it.
SAGAL: You've got to roll it. Bill...
T-PAIN: I know.
SAGAL: ...How did T-Pain do on our quiz?
KURTIS: He got them all right. T-Pain, I'll buy you a drink.
T-PAIN: Baby. Let's go. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
T-PAIN: Thank you. Thank you. I'm really good at this.
SAGAL: You are. You're very, very good at this.
T-PAIN: Super-good. Yeah.
SAGAL: T-Pain, you are the best.
SAGAL: You are an absolute joy. Thank you so much for joining us, man.
T-PAIN: Thank you, guys. That was fun as hell. I really appreciate that, man.
SAGAL: Take care. Bye-bye.
KURTIS: See you.
T-PAIN: Peace out (ph).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLAME IT (ON THE ALCOHOL)")
T-PAIN: (Singing) Blame it on the Goose, got you feeling loose. Blame it on the 'tron, got you in the zone. Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol. Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol.
SAGAL: In just a minute, the shocking truth about which words rhyme with other words. It's our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us in the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.