Mat Franco is a talented magician who specializes in the kind of close-up sleight of hand tricks that defy rational explanation. He managed to beat the odds by winning the ninth season of America’s Got Talent, despite the fact that none of the other magic acts that had previously appeared on the show had ever really excelled in the reality shows format. Mat’s amazing magical talents combined with the customized variety he brought to each of his performances managed to keep his act fresh and exciting for the America’s Got Talent judges, and the viewing public at home. As a result he has become one of the best known winners of the show, and launched a glittering career directly off of the back of his success. But what is the popular magician doing now in 2017? And is he still entertaining audiences with his startling range of incredible illusions?
Mat Franco’s Childhood & Early Career
Reality TV in its many and varied formats dominates the listings of the small screen, and there is perhaps no form of reality TV that is as successful as the competitive talent show. There have many shows in this mold over the years, from Pop Idol to the X Factor, and the format has been successful in virtually every country in the World, but America’s Got Talent is perhaps the biggest stage of all for the next aspiring star. Since season one back in 2006 the show has consistently pulled in an average of eleven million regular viewers, with finals being watched by as many as sixteen million. It’s particularly popular across a wide range of ages, with the 19-49 demographic rating it as one of the best reality shows of all, and Mat was not the first magician to ever showcase his skills on the show, not by a long way.
America’s Got Talent had in fact seen a grand total of seventy three magic acts over it’s history by the time Mat came along, including fairly well known acts such as Kevin James and The Pendragons, but as any magician will tell you, you should never do the same trick twice in a row as the appeal of even the most impressive illusion can quickly fade with repetition. The formula of the show was simply not suited to magic performances, and as a result none of those previous magic acts had won the grand prize on America’s Got Talent. But Mat Franco brought something more than just magic with him, he had versatility and a great confident personality, and he was able to weave his illusions into a complete routine that changed for every performance, and never failed to impress the judges.
Mat was born on May 10th 1988, the youngest of three boys, and after watching a magic show on TV at the age of four he quickly became interested in performing his own magic shows, in his own words he was ‘obsessed’ with magic, an obsession that is as powerful for him today as it was back then. Mat began practising at home, with the help of his ever patient grandmother, who would read instructions for him before he had learned to read himself. With her help he would put on shows for his grandfather and by the time he got to kindergarten he was already beginning to put on shows for his new school friends.
When I was twelve every penny I earned from chores was invested in candy and comics, but Mat’s obsession with magic was full-blown by that age. Instead of teeth-rotting sweetness he invested his savings in his first trip to Las Vegas, where he spent three days learning new tricks under sleight of hand master Jeff McBride, as well as catching a show or two, including an inspiring performance by Vegas veteran and master matter manipulator Lance Burton. At fifteen Mat was one of five young magicians selected from across the country to perform in a ‘Stars of Tomorrow’ show, and the experience of performing live at Vegas gave him some local publicity and even more confidence in his abilities.
He continued performing in small shows throughout his time at Johnston High School, where he was the captain of the school wrestling team, and he continued performing after graduating with a degree in Business administration and communication studies from the University of Rhode Island in 2010. Mat took his show to colleges nationwide for six month long tours every year, a regime he continued with for the next four years. He was nominated for the award of ‘Fastest Rising Star’ in 2012, and in 2013 he won the ‘Best College Performer’ award from the Campus Activities magazine
In 2014 he applied for America’s Got Talent and began preparing for the biggest performance of his life.
Mat Franco’s Winning Performances on America’s Got Talent
Mat’s TV début took place in June 2014 and comprised of a tailored performance where he told a story about the show, and the judges, right up close at the judges desk. It was essentially 50 card tricks coming one after the other and compressed into a slickly delivered professional routine. The crowd loved it so much that Mat got a standing ovation, and the judges were likewise impressed. Mel B admitted that she wasn’t that keen on magic but called Mat a ‘Genius’, as did Heidi Klum. Howie Mandel and Howard Stern were no less impressed and Mat left the stage to unanimous approval from the judges and enthusiastic cheers from the audience. His next appearance, during Judgement week involved him once again performing close up at the judges desk, where he somehow painted a picture of Howie holding a card Mel B had chosen at random, a trick that as far as I know had never been performed by another magician previously. It took less than two minutes to perform but the judges were amazed. ‘That’s ridiculous’ Mel B commented while Heidi was speechless. Howard enthused that Mat was ‘a pro’ and with that Mat was into the quarter finals.
With two other magicians still in the competition at that stage, and Howie wondering aloud if Mat’s close up card tricks would be enough to thrill when an audience were sat far from the stage, Mat managed to spice things up with fire and cards that seemed to teleport for his next performance, astounding his temporary assistant Heidi Klum. He stormed through to the next round where his most incredible illusion to date would show how interactive with his audience he could really be. The semi-finals took place in September 2015 and after asking Heidi, Howie and Howard to select three random cards, he used Mel’s phone to take a quick photo of them.
Lending magicians anything usually ends with unexpected results and Mel B’s phone was soon dripping wet, having been ‘accidentally’ dropped into her water by Mat. Under the former Spice Girl’s slightly concerned stare Mat proceeded to attempt to dry the phone off, resulting in a sudden cloud of smoke and a vanished phone. Next Mat asked Heidi to call Mel’s phone and the hushed theater was suddenly filled with a cellphone ringing from somewhere in it’s darkened midst. Mat took Mel with him to investigate and, after identifying the source of the noise, he produced a pen knife and proceeded to cut open a theater seat, inviting Mel to search inside it. Of course her phone, now completely dry and displaying the photo he had taken was inside it, and the seat number? Well that was 642, the same as the random card selection. It was a completely new direction for Mat’s magic, and the audience were far more involved. Howard was effusive in his praise of Mat, as were Heidi and Howie. Mel B was amazed, but also visibly happy to have her phone back in full working order.
The Finale that won America’s Got Talent for Mat involved Howard Stern, Mel B and 52 randomly chosen audience members and an amazing card sorting trick that defied any rational explanation. But it wasn’t just the magic that made Mat the winner of the competition and the $1 million first prize, it was Mat’s versatility and the confidence and personality he brought to his act. Mat Franco is a talented magician with an amazing array of skills, but on top of that he’s a completely entertaining package of various talents, and the most successful magician that has even been on the show, with good reason.
What’s Mat Franco Doing Now in 2017 – Recent Updates
For Mat Franco it was never about the money, he was already earning a good living doing the one thing that has steered his whole life, but to win America’s most loved talent show in front of millions of viewers, as well as his biggest fan and first trusted assistant, his grandmother, was the crowning triumph in his career up to that point, and of course it’s led to him being able to bring his magic to many more people now in 2017 in the wake of that success.
Within a year Mat Franco began performing as the headline act at the LINQ Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas with his show. To say that the show has been a success would be a huge understatement. The LINQ has become his second home, and later this year he will be getting his name above the door, quite literally. The LINQ theater where he performs will soon be changing it’s name to The Mat Franco Theater. Quite an achievement considering some of the competition his performances are up against.
Magic is more popular now in Las Vegas than it has been since the 1990’s when greats such as Siegfried & Roy and David Copperfield performed there, perhaps more popular than it has ever been. And just as those greats of the past inspired Mat Franco to his incredible and magical rise to fame, he too has undoubtedly inspired some of the great magicians that will come in the future. The accolades continue to pour in for Mat’s performances since his winning run on America’s Got Talent. His regular show at the LINQ theater was named ‘Best Show’ in all categories at the Las Vegas Strip by the readers of of the Las Vegas Weekly in 2016, and later that year he was awarded ‘Best Magic Show’ at the Best of Las Vegas Awards, all the more impressive when you consider that second and third places were taken by much-loved and hugely popular magicians ‘Penn & Teller’ and Chris Angell respectively.
Even in 2014 Mat performed other shows between his appearances on America’s Got Talent, and these days he still somehow finds the time to take his magic to audiences outside Las Vegas. He actively tours around the country, often performing to audiences in the thousands, and recently performed at his alma mater, The University of Rhode Island as a special guest for their 125th anniversary celebration in February 2017. He was a guest performer for the finals of season ten of America’s Got Talent in 2015 and NBC gave him a two-hour TV special, ‘Mat Franco’s Got Magic’ that aired in December 2015. Despite all of the accolades, the recognition and the financial stability that his success was brought him, all of it is just icing on the cake for Mat Franco, for after all this is a man who is as obsessed with magic now as when he first discovered it at the age of four, and for Mat the most important thing is to see the audience’s faces light up with a smile, before we all inevitably ask the question ‘How DID he do that?’.