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‘America’s Got Talent’ magician Mat Franco comes to Reno

Mark Earnest  |  Best Bets

A huge part of what makes Mat Franco’s magic successful is the audience. He acknowledges that every show is different since it’s so built on volunteers and audience interaction — and he’s seen some interesting stuff happen during his multi-year run at a Vegas theater.

“I’ve had guys walk on stage barefoot, and they weren’t sure where their shoes were at,” Franco said in a June interview from his home in Las Vegas. “That’s actually happened twice now.

Franco’s traveling magic show makes a stop on July 2 at the Peppermill Resort Hotel, and he’s hoping this tradition of the unexpected remains for his Reno debut.

“I just try to get the audience to feel comfortable during the show. I only invite people up that want to be there and volunteer. And usually, they will have a personality trait or something that they say or do that will spin the whole thing on its head. And I think that’s really nice — it’s great when someone can make me laugh, too. As predictable as you think people are, it’s still fun to be surprised at what people do.”

Franco said his touring show does have differences from the one that has played in Vegas.

“Although, I will bring over some fan favorites that are in the Vegas show and some from what I did on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ I’ll also be doing some brand-new stuff, too. I haven’t really finalized the set list yet. I’m kind of like a musician in that I work in what I see and feel in the moment of the shows.”

Developing talent

The 29-year-old Franco was born in Rhode Island and saw magic on television shows from an early age. From an early age he performed for friends, at school and in smaller shows before his graduation from high school in 2006. His biggest show in his early career was in 2003 when, at age 15, he was part of a show of burgeoning magicians at the Rivera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Franco continued with magic study and shows while attending school at the University of Rhode Island. Franco has a degree in business administration with a minor in communications. Until his audition on “America’s Got Talent,” Franco became a steady performer at college campuses with a one-man show that is similar to what he does now: sleight-of-hand tricks with a lot of audience participation and a big dose of personable humor. That constant touring work earned Franco a 2013 nod for Best College Performer from the magazine Campus Activities.

His audition ran on “America’s Got Talent” in June 2014, and Franco became a highlight for each subsequent episode. One memorable one had him take judge Mel B’s phone and make it disappear, only to cut open a seat and show the phone inside its cushion. Franco used Rosie O’Donnell and then coach Howard Stern as a part of his final performance on the show. With Franco’s win, he became the first magician to take the finals.

Franco said he wouldn’t change a thing about his time at “America’s Got Talent.”

“I thought it was really hard to go on and win that show,” he said. “The planets really aligned. There were so many magicians that were on that show over 10 or 12 years. But, everything happened at the right time and it all came together for me. It’s crazy — it was an epiphany for me and life hasn’t been the same since. I always planned to remain more of an underground magician and just make my living doing shows. I never thought I’d be in the public eye, never thought I’d sell a lot of tickets. This just exploded beyond what I thought and now it’s the coolest thing ever.”

Success on the Strip

About a year after winning the competition, Franco started headlining a show at the LINQ Hotel and Casino in Vegas. The shows have been successful, as both the Las Vegas Weekly and Las Vegas Review-Journal gave best-of awards to Franco in 2016. And, the hotel-casino has renamed its theater after Franco for his future performances of “Mat Franco: Magic Reinvented Nightly.”

“It’s pretty crazy,” Franco said of the theater’s name change. “It feels funny to say it out loud.”

Franco said that he definitely feels connected not to just the many magicians in Vegas with shows but all performers on the Strip.

“People say it’s the magic capital now, and they ask if it has a competitive vibe, but I don’t see it that way at all,” he said. “The magic community, we are all really close. Everyone has developed their own brand of magic. It’s the same as in music: you have your own brand and you try to differentiate what you are doing in order for it to succeed. It has to be unique.”

To that end, Franco believes his work has fun at its center.

“I wanted to develop something that wasn’t dark. I want people to just laugh and have fun with it. It’s not a show where there’s a lot of over analyzing. We’re just having a great time together. I want people to be relaxed and forget about the day-to-day while they are at the show.”

Franco said that this resurgence in magic shows is interesting considering how social media has changed the way people view entertainment.

“Magic is one of the few art forms that you really have to experience live. And, I think that’s part of what makes people want to go see it. It’s an escape for people and we need that in this day and age. It’s something that can’t be explained with a Google search, you know?”