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.
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 something 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.