As the first magician ever to win NBC’s America’s Got Talent, Mat Franco takes an innovative approach to magic-making that’s driven by pure joy. Almost entirely self-taught, the 30-year-old Rhode Island native began staging his own shows before the age of 10 and quickly cultivated a performance style that highlighted his natural warmth and wit. Following a triumphant victory on America’s Got Talent and his first-ever primetime TV special, Mat Franco’s Got Magic, Franco is now headlining his own show, MAGIC REINVENTED NIGHTLY at The LINQ Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, an improvisation-fueled stage production offering boundless fun and a stunning sense of thrill and wonder. Named “Best Show” by Las Vegas Weekly and twice voted “Best Magic Show” in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Best of Las Vegas Awards, MAGIC REINVENTED NIGHTLY has continued to receive rave reviews from fans and critics alike, paving the way for the renaming of the LINQ Theater to The Mat Franco Theater in summer 2017.
Growing up in Johnston, Rhode Island, Franco first became fascinated with magic at the age of four. “I basically spent my whole childhood teaching myself by taping magic shows off the TV and watching them over and over in slow motion, trying to figure out all the tricks,” says Franco. At age 12—after years of sharpening his craft by practicing for his family and friends and delivering on-the-fly performances at his older brothers’ wrestling matches and football games—Franco headed to Las Vegas to join in a three-day program that allowed him to study under a host of magicians previously featured on NBC’s The World’s Greatest Magic. Thanks to an act he developed on his own and honed through an ever-growing number of gigs at local events and parties, Franco returned to Las Vegas three years later and took the stage at the Riviera Hotel & Casino as part of the Society of American Magicians National Convention.
After finishing high school, Franco began studying business at the University of Rhode Island, balancing his coursework with a steadily flourishing career powered by word-of-mouth marketing. And in performing for his peers during his time as a student, he soon discovered that the college crowd provided a perfect audience for his humor-infused take on magic. “When I was younger I was a little more serious, partly because I was trying to emulate the magicians I saw on TV, who tended to have a dark, mysterious element to their act,” he says. “But after a while I found my own voice as a performer and moved toward a style that’s much more lighthearted, where I’m interacting with the audience in a laid-back way that lets those more comedic moments happen.”
Over the next four years, Franco toured the country performing for colleges and universities, fast earning recognition as an in-demand act and eventually winning the 2013 Male Performer of The Year award from Campus Activities magazine. Then, in early 2014, he decided to expand his reach even further by auditioning for America’s Got Talent. “People had been telling me to try out for years, and finally I just auditioned on a whim,” he said. “I had no intentions of actually getting on the show—mostly it just seemed like a fun challenge to try to put together a piece of material that could work for a live audience but also engage the people watching at home.” Noting that his time on America’s Got Talent went a long way in fine-tuning his performance skills, Franco says he hopes his triumph over 100,000 aspirants might have a broader impact on his chosen field. “To be honest, I didn’t expect to see any magician win the show,” he admits. “Magic requires a different kind of attention than what’s needed for something like music, and sometimes it can be a challenge to get people to connect. My hope in all this is that I’ve done something that will help move the art of magic forward.”
Claiming his victory in mid-September 2014, Franco went on to host the America’s Got Talent Live show at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas later that month. Along with appearing on shows like Today, Live! with Kelly and Michael, and Access Hollywood Live, Franco also immediately set to work on refining brand-new material for his headlining act with MAGIC REINVENTED NIGHTLY. With the aim of taking his audience on a “shared adventure,” the full-scale production allows Franco to execute his magic with a grander sense of spectacle than ever before—all while maintaining the easy intimacy that’s long been central to his performances. “One of the most important things to me as a performer is really connecting with the audience, so it’s like we’re all just hanging out in a room together,” he says. “I love to change things up as I go and let the crowd guide what we’re doing. That way it keeps it fresh for me every night, and makes it so each show is special for everyone in the audience.”
Another factor essential to Franco in keeping his work fresh: constant boundary-pushing and a creative process that’s rooted in relatability. “I’m pretty well-versed in the history of magic, and I love to learn about what people before me have done, but I usually get my own inspiration from the sorts of things most of us are dealing with every day,” he says. To that end, much of his material hinges on instilling magic into slice-of-life scenarios, such as a now-famous America’s Got Talent bit based on celebrity judge Mel B’s lost cell phone. “For me magic isn’t about pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes and trying to blur the lines between what’s real and not real,” says Franco. “It’s about giving the people in the audience a good show, something that surprises and excites them but also lets them laugh and have some fun—just like any kind of great entertainment would.”