Sometimes people’s nice-guy personas are completely phony. But magician Mat Franco, who won season 9 of “America’s Got Talent” in 2014, is genuinely a pleasant guy in conversation.
As a fan of AGT, he’d always wanted a magician to win — then he got his chance on the show. He’s still the only magician ever to win on that show.
We recently caught up with Franco, whose residency at the LINQ Hotel and Casino in a theater named after him is on for 46 weeks out of the year. That leaves him six weeks of time to do what he wishes — but he rarely takes actual time off. You’ll still find him hard at work, taking his show on the road. This Friday, Aug. 17, will be his first time performing in Augusta.
Metro Spirit: You’ll be at the Miller Theater in Augusta (this) week; what kinds of tricks can people expect?
Mat Franco: People can expect the type of magic that’s interactive — it’s the type of magic where people become a part of it. … It’s sort of another version of the show we’ve done in Las Vegas for the past couple of years here, actually winning Best Magic Show in Las Vegas for the past two years. We’re bringing it to Augusta for the first time. But those who have seen the show in Las Vegas will actually see a different setlist. So what I do on the road is a combination of magic I’ve done on television, “America’s Got Talent,” TV specials. Some of my old favorites that I invented years ago, and even some new stuff that I’m working on as well.
Spirit: How is life different before and after your AGT win?
Franco: Well, it was definitely an epiphany. Before “America’s Got Talent,” I was working my little one-man show, traveling around the country performing on college campuses. And since winning “America’s Got Talent,” boy, it’s afforded me so many amazing opportunities, especially being able to tour on a grander scale, being able to perform in Las Vegas at the Mat Franco Theater. I mean, how amazing is that; we just celebrated 1,000 shows, which is outrageous.
Spirit: I read that you’re kind of a magician for the new generation. And you know how millennials get a bad rap lately. Do you think it’s different to market toward millennials, or is it easy or are they harder to fool?
Franco: I think that magic has an appeal that goes across all age ranges, so everyone from kids to grandparents can relate to and enjoy magic and love magic, and I think just, my age demographic and bringing my own brand and style to it, is not something we’re used to. You know, magic has certain connotations and certain stereotypes, and I believe that the style I’ve brought to it has simply made it something that millennials can relate to, as opposed to it being something that’s a little bit dated.
Spirit: How do you try to keep it from being dated?
Franco: I’m always working on material that feels with the times. You won’t see me wearing a top hat; you won’t see any bunnies; you won’t see women sawed in half. I mean, think about what I just said. How dated is even that concept, putting people in boxes? To me, it’s all about moving things forward, and it’s all about using things that are relevant to people. Borrowing people’s cellphones and doing magic with phones and things like that. Things that are relevant to today, not in the 1950s.
Spirit: I know you’ve been doing magic since you were a kid, basically, but what was it like for you in high school — what kind of kid were you in high school?
Franco: I started to gain a little bit of confidence around that time… you know, I had been really shy kind of growing up, and then magic started to kind of open doors for me and be a little bit of something that helps me feel included, helps me kind of break out of my shell a bit, and I attribute all of that to magic. I attribute a lot of my social skills in general that we all possess, I attribute to performing magic and meeting people. It’s something that helped me — it’s a great ice-breaker. And during my teenage years, I used it as that and tried to take advantage of using it as that.”
Spirit: How many hours of practice a week do you put into magic?
Franco: I put in a lot. It’s one of those things where you have to really love it. You have to practice for the love of practice, because it simply takes that much time. … I’ve never had to tell myself, “Oh, I’d better go in my room and practice for two hours” as a kid growing up — it was more of like, when I was a little kid, my parents would have to be like, “Mat, are you still up there? You know, you have to eat at some point.”
Spirit: What do you miss about Rhode Island since you moved out to Las Vegas in 2015? I know that’s probably quite a different scene.
Franco: Yeah, the answer is the people. The people, the people. Friends, family — being away is not always easy. I miss the people the most, because there’s a certain culture there, there’s a certain energy, certain vibe. Just like in any city, Augusta’s probably different from Atlanta, and Atlanta’s different from New York, and Vegas is different from Chicago. Same thing. Rhode Island is its own unique thing, and boy, I love going up there; I love the people up there. Summers there are beautiful, so I always go back when I can.
Spirit: In your busy life, what are you most grateful for?
Franco: Boy. I think I’m most grateful just for the opportunity to be able to do what I love and share it with people. I mean, that is — I can’t imagine what else I would ask for, really. You know, I’m not a materialistic person — I don’t like things; I like experiences. So for me, just to be able to spend my time doing something I’ve been passionate about since I was 4 years old, and for people to openly express their appreciation for it, and allow me to use that passion to make a living, wow. Like, that’s heavy stuff. It’s so cool. It kind of puts me beside myself when I think about it. So I’m glad you asked that.
Spirit: What are the unexpected benefits of being a magician?
Franco: Unexpected benefits… wow. (laughs) Oh, boy. Unexpected benefits, let me think. See, when I think about it, I always think about the things that come with it that you don’t think of. Unexpected benefits… geez. Well, it’s not the things people always think, people always think “hey, you’re a magician, you can make this disappear” — people love the old joke, “Oh, could you make my wife disappear?” Those things are not actual benefits. I’m not actually a wizard. (laughs) I’m just someone who spends a lot of time practicing my craft, so I suppose the unexpected benefits are uhh… did you stump me, Amanda? Did you stump me?”
Spirit: I think I did!
Franco: How much longer can I ramble before I come up with an answer? What type of unexpected benefit are you looking for here?
Spirit: Well, like finding a date or, I don’t know, anything. Like can you use it to impress people to get a date with them?
Franco: Uh, you can. I would choose not to, because you want someone to like you for you and not because you can make something appear for them. So for me, honestly, truthfully, I know people who have used magic to get dates. I know people who have used magic to get out of speeding tickets. I know people who have used magic to gain access to places that they never would have been able to get into. And those are all wonderful, wonderful things to do with magic, if it’s your hobby. But magic being my job, I like to reserve it for what I really need it for. For me, it’s my livelihood, so I’ve never been one to just bust out a magic trick when people least expect it. I like to kind of keep it contained, when I’m ready to do the show, I’m ready to do the show. But I also like to be Mat Franco the person, the human, offstage. So very seldom will you see me shoving tricks down your throat, outside of the context of when I feel that it’s appropriate. So I guess I’m just not that guy, what can I say?
Spirit: OK, well, that’s a good thing! I like that answer. … Well, it was great to talk to you, Mat, thank you so much.
Franco: Thanks, Amanda — appreciate your time!
Friday, Aug. 17
708 Broad St.