Twenty years before he touched Howie Mandel’s scalp on national television – mysteriously taking away the talent-show judge’s ability to read – Leeman Parker fell in love with magic at the California State Fair at a booth that taught card-and-coin tricks.
Born and raised in Wilton, Parker performed his first illusions for a talent show at Dillard Elementary School soon after.
“I had trouble talking to people,” said Parker, 28. “Magic allowed me to interact with others, the intermediary being the cards and tricks.”
Parker aims to wow Mandel again when he returns to NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” on Tuesday as half of the magic duo David and Leeman.
When Parker and his partner appeared on the show earlier this summer, they performed “a demonstration of pseudo science” they described as “pressure phrenology.” Parker used his hand to squeeze parts of Mandel’s skull. When he applied pressure, Mandel was unable to read simple words written on cards, including his own name.
The trick helped the duo advance in the competition, as did their easy rapport with audiences. Parker and partner David Blatter bring a millennial savviness to their act, lacing it with comedy.
“We’re entertainers,” Parker said. “We do magic but we’re not necessarily magicians.”
Nevertheless, inspiring awe and wonder is always a priority for the pair, who rehearsed last week at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the show’s quarter finals.
Parker said appearing on the reality television is nerve-wracking, but he doesn’t live in fear of a trick going sideways.
“We’ve blown up so many times,” he said, recounting a performance at the Magic Castle in Hollywood where Blatter accidentally swallowed a needle during an illusion. “The idea doesn’t even have an emotional impact because we’ve messed up so much.”
Parker and Blatter will be competing against 48 other acts in the quarter finals, including an acrobatic mime, a jump-rope team and a contortionist.
“We’re not expecting to win,” Parker said. “It’s just not in our odds. It’ll probably be a singer or some cute kid.”
Regardless of the outcome, appearing on “America’s Got Talent” means amazing exposure for the entertainers. Parker said they’re set to perform on “Good Morning America” this weekend (7 a.m. Sunday, Channel 10). They also will appear on the CW’s “Masters of Illusion” in August.
The attention has given the duo a taste of fame.
“Sometimes I get customers who will recognize me,” Parker said, who works as a Starbucks barista in Los Angeles when he’s not performing on stage.
Five years after he met Blatter, a high school teacher, on the Santa Monica Pier, Parker said he never expected they’d make it this far. “We’re just happy to be here,” he said.