‘America’s Got Talent’ exclusive: Mat Franco on the Holiday Spectacular and all things magic

Mat Franco -Tonight on NBC, we’re going to get a chance to see something new and exciting in the form of the “America’s Got Talent” Holiday Spectacular. For the first time, Nick Cannon and the judges are going to be on the air during the holiday season, and they will be joined by past acts from a number of different seasons. It’s a chance to see an all-star lineup that includes reigning champion Grace VanderWaal, former champs like Olate Dogs and Terry Fator, and also some great variety acts like the Professional Regurgitator and Professor Splash.

One act in particular we’re especially excited to see is former champion Mat Franco, the first magician to win the show and a guy who now has a prominent residency over at The Linq Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. (You can get more information and tickets to that over here.)

Late last week, Mat was kind enough to spend some time talking to us about his act, his view of magic, and what it was like for him to return to the show and for this particular event. (The photo above is from his recent result-show appearance earlier this year.)

CarterMatt – We’re getting close to the end of the year now, so this is a pretty big time for reflection. How would you describe 2016 for you?

Mat Franco – Wow. Well really ever since winning ‘America’s Got Talent,’ everything’s been a whirlwind. I just finished my first year of my residency show in Vegas, we’re renewed for two more years, we actually just won the award for Best Magic Show in Vegas and another award for Best Show on the Strip in general. To have all of this happen to me in one year, it really is surreal and it’s tough to put into words. I would’ve never had this opportunity without ‘America’s Got Talent,’ so it’s amazing.

Since you’ve had your show in Vegas, what’s been the evolution of planning that and maintaining as you go through the grind of doing it for so many days?

The first thing I realized was that it was not necessarily a grind. It’s something I love to do. I thought it would be a grind, too, but I turned out I was wrong. I used to think, because I was doing a show at night, that I needed to prepare throughout the day and make sure I was rested, make sure that I slept in. I soon realized that this wasn’t the case. That 7 0’clock timeslot when I do the show, that’s my relaxation time. That’s when I get to go into the zone and do what I love to do. If you ever see a musician, a guitar player in the middle of a solo, and you can tell that they’re in the pocket, I get to do that for a 90-minute show. That’s how it really feels to me.

Really the show’s the best part of my day, so I look forward to it.

You spend so much time performing; when do you find the time to plan out new illusions and some further ideas? Is that something you do during the day, or once you get done with the show for the night?

Usually that’s something that I work on during the day. I like to get up pretty early and stay busy. I’m always working ideas that I’ve had from the previous weeks, and you never know when the next idea is going to come. I think it’s just like songwriting; you can be in the shower or driving, and when you least expect it, you could be making yourself a peanut butter sandwich and a crazy idea could come into your head (laughs).

When did you first hear about the idea of the “America’s Got Talent” holiday special? How was that approached to you?

I still am very close with all of the folks at the network and the show. I think it was just in casual conversation [that the subject came up]. I was in Los Angeles at the time hanging out with some of my friends from the show, and someone said ‘hey, we have this holiday thing, would you like to be a part of it,’ and I said ‘of course, just tell me when and where and I’ll be happy to be there. I’d love to be a part of it.’

You’ve returned to the show before, and there was obviously a different vibe since you weren’t performing for votes or anything like that. This time around nobody’s performing to be the winner and there isn’t that pressure there, so was the vibe a lot different in general during the taping?

Absolutely. I think in this special you’ll see all of the performers at their absolute best, because they’re going to be relaxed and comfortable and an environment that they’re used to. There’s no competitive edge. It’s a complete collaborative party.

How did you go about planning what you wanted to do? Did you go about it thinking that you wanted to adapt something that already existed to fit your act, or were you looking instead to try to build something entirely new from scratch?

You could do it either way. My particular approach this time around was to create a new effect tailored specifically for this performance. So basically, it’s the equivalent of writing a new song. I built a specific effect for this show that I’m not already doing in the [Vegas] show.

Can you speak at all to what sort of role the judges played in all of this? I think that’s one of the things me and some other people have been the most curious about.

Without giving too much away, I would say that fans should expect to see whether or not [a certain judge] is really into the Christmas spirit or a total Scrooge. I think it could go either way! We’ll find out the answer to that come Monday night.

What excites you when you see a new magician for the first time, whether it’s on this show or somewhere else?

I enjoy seeing magic that sort of brings people together. When I first came on the show a couple of years back, my goal was to not to fool people or trick people, but give people magic that they could feel like they were a part of, and bring everyone together instead of pushing people away. I think we’ve seen more of that on ‘America’s Got Talent’ with some of the great magic acts that have been on there like the Clairvoyants and Jon Dorenbos. That’s what I like to see. I like to see magic that brings people together, so what better way to do that than with the Christmas Spirit?

Some of the magic acts who have come out of the show have done fairly well. Is there a secret to finding that success, or a bit of advice that you can offer to people hoping to have a career after the show once the press and all of the hype around it is over?

I think the key is to surround yourself with the right people and make sure that your team is the right team for you. I think the other thing, and this is some advice someone else gave me, is that sometimes people get an opportunity like this and then they sign on with a great manager. Then, they think ‘okay I’ve got this great manager, I’m all done,’ which couldn’t be further from the truth. You’ve got to remember that a manager or an agent makes 10%, and the other 90% is still you. You’ve gotta remember to hustle! That’s the name of the game. Choose projects that creatively charge you and go from there.

Is judging other magic acts or judging on a show like this in general something that would interest you?

Great question. Absolutely! I think I would bring an interesting perspective to a panel like this because we haven’t seen an example of having someone in that field be a judge. We’ve had Howie [Mandel] as a comedian, we had Howard [Stern] from radio, we have Simon Cowell now. We have Mel B from music and Heidi [Klum] from fashion. It’d be interesting to have someone from a variety art give their perspective since it’s a variety / talent show.

I think the key is the diversity between the judges and getting a well-rounded team. It’s gotta be the right mix.

So we’ve talked about this year for you and everything you’ve done, so do you have anything you’re looking to accomplish in 2017? I know you’re doing some East-Coast shows.

I’ve got some projects that I can’t talk about just yet, but it really is to just keep creating new magic to bring people together. I love pushing that envelope. I know I’m in the business as a magician, but I’m really in the business of making people happy. During the show I can take people out of their everyday life for 90 minutes and make them forget about the barrage of emails that they need to reply to or their deadlines at work, and let them escape for a period of time in a safe, fun way. The key is to continue doing that in the best way possible.

Thanks to Mat for his time! You can see a further preview for tonight’s “America’s Got Talent” Holiday Spectacular now over at the link here, and we’ll be back tonight to look at it further. (Photo: NBC.)

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