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By Richard Kaufman

The multi-talented (particularly for a reptile) Piff the Magic Dragon will be appearing on America’s Got Talent Champions on Monday January 14th at 8 pm on the NBC television network.

AGT Champions is a spin-off of the normal AGT shows, and you can learn more about it and see a list of all the acts here. 

There are quite a few magicians, mentalists, and specialty acts competing including Piff, Colin Cloud, Cosentino,  Darcy Oake, Issy Simpson, Jon Dorenbos, Stevie Starr, Shin Lim, and The Clairvoyants.

I think it’s fair to say that Olivia Munn and Shin Lim are beautiful people (and talented people: Shin Lim is obviously amazing, but Munn is absolutely superb in The Newsroom). Thus, Olivia Munn watching Shin Lim perform one of his beautiful routines takes us into a realm of previously theoretical beauty that might just destroy your retinas. 

To spare you this fate, the clip above occasionally cuts back to Simon Cowell, whose strange, hobgoblin proportions are an excellent antidote to the dancing angels on the stage. 

You might have noticed that my descriptions of Shin Lim’s performances have been getting stranger with each passing week. That’s because writing about Shin Lim is incredibly hard. He’s just great. Really good. Look at that video. How do I describe that? “Shin Lim continues to be Shin Lim?” I’ve already made that joke. 

 The boffins running America’s Got Talent have clearly come to the same conclusion, as this clip was “leaked” ahead of time as a trailer for the upcoming episode. 

Somehow I managed to miss this amazing illusion that aired on America’s Got Talent last month. The Escape is a mind-bending bit of visual trickery that uses high tech holograms and old fashioned rope to tell a story about an unlucky player trying to escape a mad virtual reality game.

The show was developed (quite literally in some ways) by Ukrainian visual “solutions” company, Front Pictures, with the help of Red Rabbit Entertainment and PROFI LTD. 

The company has produced similarly impressive bits of what I’m going to dub virtual virtual reality for several other events, including the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest.

I think the highest praise I can give Shin Lim is that his routines shouldn’t work. They’re hilariously dramatic, verging on overwrought, and his musical choices channel near lethal levels of cheese. The way he performs oh so slowly while staring languidly into the middle distance like he’s in an aftershave commercial stops just shy of self-parody. I mean just look at the guy.

That’s a face that has transcended smug and entered some post-human era of vainglorious self appreciation. He should be insufferable. And yet, I adore him. He’s easily one of my favorite performers, and not just because his sleights are technically immaculate. According to his website, Lim thinks of himself as a “sleight of hand artist” instead of a magician, and while that might sound like marketing fluff, I think it’s very true. At his best, Lim doesn’t hide his sleights, in fact, he accentuates them with a little pause, a leisurely glance at the camera, a telling half smile tugging at his cheek. “Yeah, I just did that,” he says silently though splayed fingers, “wasn’t it marvellous?”

So yeah, I really like Shin Lim. Also, bad luck to every other magician on this episode of America’s Got Talent. 

The bar for magical acts in this year’s America’s Got Talent has already been set ridiculously high by an amazing first episode performance by Shin Lim, but Belgian mentalist, magician, and martial artist Aaron Crow is a strong competitor, if his hilariously tongue-in-cheek danger act from the latest episode is anything to go by. 

Stalking around the stage in what looked like a homemade Blade costume circa 1998 while shooting smouldering glances at the camera like a kind of off-brand Zoolander, the strangely chiselled, silent performer had me laughing from the get go. I just couldn’t tell if he was in on the joke.

By the time he’d finished applying his ridiculous blindfold, which consisted of wax, bandages, duct tape, and a final layer of tin foil, I was convinced he’s actually a comedy genius.

Looking like a jacket potato that had joined the League of Shadows, Crow proceeded to perform an elaborate kata, whipping out various weapons as he went. During the routine, he stabbed a paper bag held by one volunteer, smashed a wooden board held by another, and finally chopped a pineapple suspended above Howie Mandel’s head in half.  

If this seems familiar, Crow performed a very similar routine on Britain’s Got Talent back in 2013. Here’s hoping he makes it further into AGT so we can see what further bladed ridiculousness he has to offer.   

While Britain’s Got Talent dropped two magic acts from the competition last night, Asian magicians were keeping the dream alive on the show’s American counterpart.

Shin Lim set a crazy high bar just by, you know, being Shin Lim. That elegant sleight-of-hand routine set to Un Nouveau Soleil by M83 is a perfect example of why the Canada-born, Singapore-raised magician is so highly regarded in magic circles. That and the fact he’s a FISM winner. Oh, and stuff like this.

But while several people think Lim deserves to win the competition outright, he had stiff competition from Asia’s Got Talent winner, The Sacred Riana, whose act speaks for itself. 

The 25-year-old illusionist from Jakarta, Indonesia, isn’t a flashy technician like Lim, but instead sells her tricks with a cool Ringu-inspired persona, complete with plenty of head twitching and spooky glares. You’d think the gimmick would get old, but Riana took Asia’s Got Talent by storm last year. Her appearance on AGT has prompted some to complain that winners from other regions should not be allowed to compete.     

Oh, and if you’re wondering how Simon Cowell can appear in two different shows in two different continents on the same night, he can’t teleport and he doesn’t have an identical twin. The audition stages of the show are actually recorded weeks in advance.

 

Have you ever seen a couple of so close they can finish each other’s thoughts? Literally, I mean.

Well now you can. 

Austrian mentalism duo, Thommy Ten and Amélie van Tass, perhaps better known as The Clairvoyants, performed their signature mind-reading trick during a TV appearance to promote to their upcoming appearance at the Sound Board at Motor City Casino on May 3rd.

The pair, who are partners on stage and off, were FISM Mentalism champions in 2016, and later used their unique brand of mentalism to secure second place in season 11 of America’s Got Talent, catapulting them to even greater renown.

Ten insists their act has to be seen live for the full effect.

“You can watch movies and shows on TV but really being a part of it, going onstage, or us going into the audience and working with people, that is so different,” he told Parade back in 2016. “That’s what people like because it’s not a show anymore, it’s an experience.”  

Fresh off his performance at the YouTube FanFest in Mumbai, Collins Key spoke with The Indian Express about his rapid rise to online stardom. Like so many professionals, Key’s interest in the performing arts started young. He made his theater debut with a Shakespeare play at age four before discovering the interpersonal power of magic at just nine years old.

“Shakespeare and theatre was only on stage, but magic I could do everywhere for almost everyone,” Key said. “And the way I could connect with the people through that — it was really personal. I could see their reactions and responses. And that’s when I shifted my focus to magic.”

Maybe his stage training allowed him have that level of self-awareness at such a tender age. But his high-octane personality probably helped too.

“I have always had this crazy amount of energy. I was the kid who would be screamed at by parents, ‘sit down’ or ‘you will break something’. I thought it would burn down with age, but well it hasn’t.”

After training with the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, Key went on to a finalist run on season 8 of America’s Got Talent and now stars in a popular YouTube channel. In his videos, he does occasionally share magic tricks, but he’s more likely to be goofing around with his brother.

“It’s honest fun that the whole family can sit and enjoy together,” he said of his YouTube presence. In fact, more than 11 million fans are enjoying his videos together. Read the full interview here.

America’s Got Talent is still hosting auditions for its 13th season. The talent competition has open calls in four more locations before it will select the season’s performers. The remaining auditions are scheduled for January 13 in Nashville, January 19 in San Jose, February 3 in Los Angeles, and February 24 in Phoenix. If you want a shot to strut your stuff on TV, you’ll need to register on the show’s dedicated audition website.

America’s Got Talent has spawned several companion programs to highlight gifted performers all around the world. The United States has only had one magician take the top prize; Mat Franco parlayed his title into a standing engagement in Vegas, and has revisited the program for its holiday special. Asia’s Got Talent had multiple excellent magic acts, with two magicians squaring off in the grand finals. The Sacred Riana’s skills and striking on-stage persona secured her that win for 2017. Or, if you want your magic mixed with a dash of the bizarre, check out Uekusa Kazuhisa’s performance for Georgia’s Got Talent that put him into the semi-finals.

We’re in the thick of the holiday season, which means festively themed tricks galore from magicians. It also means that now is a good time to revisit a wintery wonder from last year’s America’s Got Talent holiday special. Mat Franco performed his riff on a classic, one that’s sure to get you Frozen fans a-humming. Enjoy!