Backstage With The Ghetto Houdini

Michael Lauck is a columnist for iTricks. His work appears on Mondays.

In case you have not heard, Smoothini the Ghetto Houdini is a national sensation.

His official America’s Got Talent audition YouTube video has over 12.5 million views. That is 2.5 times the amount views of the other three magicians auditions put together.

When the two episodes of America’s Got Talent called Judgement Week aired, Smoothini was nowhere to be seen. He did not perform, he was not seen watching the other acts. His audition had been a huge hit. Not only did he have millions of views on the official AGT YouTube page, it had been reposted by dozens and dozens of other users. In fact, even a month later his video was still being reposted every day. When he was absent from the Judgement Week episodes, which revealed the acts going to the live shows, #WheresSmoothini trended on Twitter.

Smoothini did make it through to the live rounds, though, along with David and Leeman, Mat Franco and Mike Super (the first two acts have already gone through to the next round and Mike Super will have his shot before America this Tuesday). He was not only not seen in the episode, he was not mentioned until the official list of finalists was put on on the NBC website. “It was probably the best thing they could have done for me,” Smoothini said “because everyone went crazy.” As for Smoothini, he, his girlfriend Laura and family were occupied with the impending arrival of new twins. They were born as the show’s East Coast feed aired.

While he is waiting for his turn to take the stage on AGT live episodes (we now know that he will be on the August 19 show), Smoothini hit the road to do a series of live shows across the United States. I was able to catch him at the Bottleneck Blues Bar at the Ameristar Casino just outside of St. Louis. After the show, he and I sat down for a good long talk about magic, fame, his goals and more.

Before we get into the post-show conversation, it is important to understand exactly what goes on at a Smoothini show. He is a self-described bar magician, comfortable with magic done up close and with plenty of participation. The Bottleneck Blues Bar, where I saw him, is usually a music venue, set up with plenty of monitors to show sports on the “off nights” and a large bar opposite the stage. The seating is mainly arranged around small tables, although there are seats on both sides of the bar as well. Even though a camera was set up to show close ups of the stage on the many monitors, anyone in the house should have been able to see the stage clearly enough, although they may not have been able to actually see the faces of cards from the rear. There was a small table on the left side of the audience on stage a DJ set up on the right.

As show time approached, the DJ spun tracks, mainly hip hop tracks you would hear in dance clubs. Smooth came in the back of the room and surveyed the place; I had already seen him scoping out the line to get in earlier. He spotted me and came over to sit at my table. I noticed a few of the tables around noticed that Smoothini was out in the audience as we talked about the new babies and such. When he found out that my wife was not a magic fan, he jumped right out of his seat. “We’re going to change that right now,” he announced and it was on. He launched into a mini-close up show right there next to our table. Soon, the tables around us were on their feet and gathered around as well. Cards vanished and re-appeared in bras, dirty jokes were told, spongeballs danced around.

Truth be told, the magic was not “high end” by magicians’ standards. Ashes to palm, card reveals, cigarette tricks… the kind of stuff you can learn in a hundred different books. But it did not matter, not a single person said anything about that (and I kind of doubt that anyone but me and Smooth realized it). They were all too busy laughing. Then Smoothini took pictures with everyone who wanted one and he went on to get ready. As he made his way backstage, he was stopped a few more times and did more tricks and took many more pictures. As he would tell me later, “These people are paying my bills when they buy tickets, how can I be too good to take a picture?”

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