LOS ANGELES -- An oversized, sparkling gargoyle costume dripping in gold chains and massive gold wings weighed heavy on Keenan Allen's 6-foot-2, 211-pound frame.
The Los Angeles Chargers receiver felt hot. His eyes strained to see from behind a mask and a deep breath became difficult to take behind a foam mouth piece that was part of an ultimate effort to conceal his identity.
A 10-year NFL veteran, Allen is accustomed to playing in the spotlight, but performing on a sound stage in the heart of Hollywood felt entirely unfamiliar.
"I was way more nervous than being on a football field," Allen said.
In an earpiece, a producer counted Allen in -- "three ... two ... one ..." -- before lights flashed, backup dancers spun into motion and Allen's mind flashed, "I'm not ready! I'm not ready!" Then, his microphone went live.
"You will remember me," Allen sang. "Remember me for centuries!"
Singer Robin Thicke looked on enthusiastically from the judge's panel, and a studio audience erupted in cheers as Allen completed a short rendition of Fall Out Boy's hit "Centuries." But Allen's performance could not save him from elimination on the Fox series, "The Masked Singer," a singing competition show with a twist: The performers' identities are concealed by costumes until they are eliminated.
"It is kind of overwhelming," Allen said of the experience. "Taking off the mask was the best part."
On the field, where he has donned a Chargers uniform for his entire career, Allen has developed a reputation as a dependable playmaker, earning five Pro Bowl appearances and recording the most games (10) with at least 12 receptions in NFL history.
This season, the 31-year-old is expected to return to form after a hamstring injury sidelined him for seven games in 2022. He's expected to become a beneficiary of an updated offense installed by coordinator Kellen Moore that will create more explosive plays and open more space for Allen to maneuver as he attempts to help the Bolts to consecutive playoff berths for the first time in his decadelong career.
Even amid the preparation for what could be a memorable season, Allen's coaches and teammates were well aware of their star wideout's appearance on another type of stage.
During a team meeting to open the offseason program, coach Brandon Staley turned on the film of the gargoyle lighting up the stage.
"We showed the group that," Staley said, laughing. "I was stunned at how good this guy was. I couldn't believe what I was hearing and that that was actually him."
Left tackle Rashawn Slater looked on in amazement. "I've heard him sing in the huddle before," Slater said. "And it's pretty good, but I didn't realize he had it like that."
"That was super dope," defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day said.
Herbert had an inkling that it was his top pass-catcher under the disguise.
"I had seen some of the clips," Herbert said. "I knew he had a great voice, so it was pretty impressive to watch this."
Allen loves to sing. It's a passion sparked by his mother who made him sing in the choir in Greensboro, North Carolina, when he was young. He taught himself to play the piano without learning to read music.
The 31-year-old has a fledgling music career. He has released an R&B/soul single, "Distraction," under the moniker "K. Alexander."
More than 10 years ago while in college at the University of California, Berkeley, Allen's vocal cords and love for singing sparked a love connection with his wife, Ciandra, who saw a video of him singing on Facebook.
"He was posting videos of him singing in college at the time," Ciandra recalled behind shy laughter. "That's what attracted me. I'm like, 'Wow, he's not only cute but he could sing.'"
Allen's voice now provides background music in a house bustling with four small children.
"He's been singing around the house and everywhere for as long as I can remember," Ciandra said. "To do a show like this for the first time, I was so proud of him because I knew he was ready for it."
Training for the show was intense, Allen said.
The series' production team fitted Allen for his disguise as a gargoyle, inspired in part by his 4-year-old son, Kado, who loves dinosaurs.
Once he learned which songs he would perform, Allen would sing throughout the day, wherever he was. "I just kept singing," he said, "so I didn't mess it up."
Allen officially rehearsed three days a week, putting in 15-hour days in April. He would leave his home at 7 a.m., arriving on set in time to participate in three rehearsals ahead of the live show. Time was spent with a vocal coach but not with fellow celebrity participants or judges. Each contestant had to keep their identity concealed by wearing masks with black hoodies emblazoned with the words, "Don't talk to me," on set. He returned home around 10 p.m. each evening.
"It's very TV friendly," Allen said of the show, laughing. "Not player friendly."
Allen said he could not shake his nerves as he prepared to perform in front of a panel of judges that included Thicke, actress Jenny McCarthy, actor Ken Jeong and singer Nicole Scherzinger.
"I was so scared," Allen said of the experience, which required live singing and the memorization of songs he sometimes was previously unfamiliar with. "You're not singing your song. You're singing somebody else's song. So it's like, f---, I don't want to f--- this up!"
Allen sang four songs over two episodes before his elimination in a one-on-one battle with the season's eventual winner, British singer Bishop Briggs.
"We all felt the talent in the voice, but I saw you get a little more confident, a little more loose in each performance," Thicke told Allen. "I thought you did a great job."
"You made a lasting impact on us because you have a beautiful voice," Scherzer said, "and your heart always shone through all of your performances."
Despite positive reviews from the audience, judges and teammates, Allen has decided that for now, he will stick to karaoke, singing in his hallways and dabbling in a potential music career that does not involve wearing costumes.
"It was fun," Allen said of the show. "But I don't want to do it again."