Going For The Gold – Talent Competitions & How To Win Them

I don’t do talent contests very often – they are a LOT of work to get ready for and there is no promise of anything in return but I have done enough contests in my career both in the magic community and before laymen that I know how the game works. To be fair and blunt – the game is rigged but not the way you think. Competing isn’t going to gain you any brownie points but you will learn quickly your short comings and your strengths. If the process isn’t too soul crushing you will become addicted.  Talent agents don’t frequent most contests, a bulk of your audience will be the families of your competitors so they won’t have any interest in your success nor will they think about booking you. In most small contests you will get the honor of watching your competitors do their act and you will quickly start to think you are better or that you may not make it.

Competing isn’t something I do much, it’s a lot of work with no guarantee of anything in return. I’ve accumulated 6 awards total throughout my magic career but these 4 are honorable mentions. The big one on the right that looks like a beauty pageant trophy is the one I received today at the McCracken County Fair Talent Contest- the other 3 I got all in the same year

Before I go any further allow me to share with you my competition / award resume:

FBLA Region 2 Talent Show 2008 – 2nd Place Most Talented

McCracken County Fair Talent Show 2017 – 2nd Place

The following awards were not from contests per se but from my overall contribution to my industry but I include them because it took talent and time to get them:

IBM Ring 37 Spirit of Magic Award 2009

IBM Ring 37 Young Magician Of The Year 2009

I no longer have the score sheet to prove the following but I know it existed at one point:

                                      IBM Ring 37 Magic Contest 2011 – 4th Place

Every magic or talent contest I did not place in came extremely close and if I can remember I will upload scanned copies of the score sheets so you’ll know how close.

Now here are the secrets to winning a talent contest in general. Mind you, judging is very subjective and the decisions are final and the hard work you put in may add up to nothing (which is why I don’t do these things often). Here are the secrets to winning:

* Be Original                                                                                                                                           * Get The Crowd To laugh

If you are planning on competing in a magic contest these are helpful guidelines: if you manage to do all of the following you will more than one of these you will most certainly win. Judges in magic contest are judging the participants on the following:

*Originality                                                                                                                                              * Technique                                                                                                                                  *Overall Entertainment.

The most recent talent contest I entered which was just this past Saturday (6/24/17) was a county fair talent show some 45 minutes away from home. There were about 3 dancers, 1 instrumentalist, about 26 musicians/ singers and only 1 variety entertainer (me).

Talent contests teach you humility 

When and if you get to watch the other competitors you will see what you are up against. I have seen very good fellow competitors who I honestly thought would do better than I did, and sometimes they did. But with my last contest – along with every contest I have entered and placed in – originality triumphed. What I was doing wasn’t new, I never reinvented the wheel – I was not everyone else. I provided the judges and the audience a recess from the musicians.

Now that’s originality in non-magic contests….

If you are a magician thinking about competing in a contest – originality means 1044394_10200569440532169_1132731596_nsomething different. Originality in magic IS reinventing the wheel, doing something no one has ever done before. IT IS HARD, a lot of times I thought I had created something new only to find out that it had been done before ( me preparing for the 2009 IBM International Gold Cups back in 2009 was spent experimenting and having my spirit crushed because  when I found out what I had come up with, was not new).

There is a financial bias in the magic contests – those who can afford a contest coach and director are the ones guaranteed to win or come in close.

No matter what type of talent contest you enter – you will NOT win your first time. Contests are not a monolithic structure, what worked in one is not always going to work in another, many times it takes 2 -3 tries at the same contest ( 2-3 years of attending and competing).

WHY IN THE HELL would someone go through the trouble of competing if the odds are stacked against them? One simple answer – it is FUN, you WILL meet people, you Will make friends with your competitors that may last for a lifetime and it keeps YOU ON YOUR TOES and exposes you to your own short comings. Plus the feedback you get from the judges can be life changing.

What is the competition culture like? Is it toxic? Backstabbing? No, everyone gets along fine. Everyone is experiencing the pressure and know that it is evolutionary beneficial to be helpful to each other than a hinder. In BIG contests such as America’s Got Talent, Britain’s Got Talent, Australia’s Got Talent, Belgium’s Got Talent, The International Brotherhood of Magician’s International Gold Cup & Gold Stage, The Society of American Magician Competition and the FISM – competitors will wait in what is called the Green Room. They are barred from watching the other contestants but they have access to light refreshments and they can mingle with their competitors – or do quick rehearsals and tech checks while they wait. It can take HOURS before you or anyone else can leave the Green Room. It is best to just keep to yourself, everyone should be mentally preparing themselves and distractions can really peeve some.

Most talent contests won’t give you anything in return but you can use the results as marketing leverage as I have done both with the Press and in my marketing media.11896206_10205752051854213_6503114309543324701_n



Play, Creativity & Genius – Part 1: Play

This is going to be a two part blog updated, I could make it into one but to help keep me focused I find it best to break it up intwo two. I’m going to discuss play and later creativity.
The gorilla, when it is not travelling or eating spends a good amount of it’s day playing. Organisms all across the animal kingdom play. The Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) wrote a book entitled ” Homo Ludens”. In this book Huizinga argues that play has a big part in how we learn. As children we learn how to interact appropriately with others through play. The paradox of this of course is as we enter grade school play is slowly pushed away from us as we are told that we need to learn rather than play. It appears as we get older w play less but that is only an illusion. What are we doing when we engage in sports? when we try to negotiate? Hell when we engage in politics? It’s all play.
I’ve been accused more times than none of playing way too much. If I’m not tinkering with something in my hands I’m tinkering with a thought in my head, daydreaming none the less.
Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist who spent more time in his own head than he did in an actual physical lab running physical experiments. Einstein’s brain was his lab.
Einstein died in 1955. When he died the scientific and the academic world was ready to see what his brain was like. Einstein’s brain is currently at the National Museum of Health & Medicine in Maryland & a small portion at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. Upon the autopsy following Einstein’s death, his brain was dissected (and later digitized for public viewing) to examine where his genius came from. Examination of Einstein’s brain showed that his brain was different than the average. In Einstein’s brain, the region associated with the creation of abstract thoughts and the manipulation of symbols known as the angular gyri was larger than the average on both hemispheres by 15%. Everything else about his brain is what would be expected. The question remains and it is a chicken or the egg puzzle – was Einstein a genius because his angular gyri was larger than average OR is his angular gyri larger because he used it more?
By default the human brain isn’t habituated to thinking abstractly. Our brains prefer to play by the rules and stick to protocol because it is easier (remember our brains have limited capacity and doesn’t like to work harder than it has to). Thinking abstractly – out of the box comes from repetition, practice and habit.
In my early days as a magician, and as a mentalist this day when I receive a new gadget or principle my first instinct is to throw away the instructions and take it part – find a new novel way of using the item. Sometimes I get lucky and reinvent the wheel and sometimes I have to given in and stick to the protocol of it’s original purpose. That leads into my next topic, creativity and I will leave it at that until next month.