In June, Seattle-based mentalist Peter Antoniou confounded the “America’s Got Talent” judges with an elaborate display of his talents that involved finding judge Sofia Vergara’s engagement ring hidden in one of 1,000 ring boxes. The “AGT” judges unanimously advanced Antoniou to the live rounds that begin Aug. 10 (8 p.m. on NBC) and continue Aug. 17 and 24, although only 36 performers who received a positive response from the judges will be chosen to perform again.
Antoniou is scheduled to appear in the Aug. 17 live show.
For those who might raise a skeptical eyebrow at Antoniou’s description as a “mind reader,” he’s happy to entertain a different job description. His website refers to him as a “psychic comedian.”
“Often when people think of a psychic, it’s a John Edward-medium-talking-to-the-dead vibe and that’s not what I do,” Antoniou says. “That is certainly one branch of psychic power, but not the universal sort of thing. Think of it like, a person who plays a guitar is a musician, but not all musicians play guitar.
Antoniou says he’s practiced in stagecraft and describes his stage performance as “an entertainment product” as opposed to going to see a corner psychic.
Antoniou, 31, relocated from his native England to Seattle on Jan. 6 — the day of the attack in Washington, D.C. — to be with his partner, who he met at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014. (“I got off the airplane and I had a text from my partner that just said, ‘Don’t look at the news,’ which obviously is the first thing that I did,” Antoniou recalls.)
A self-described “super-weird kid,” Antoniou was fascinated with the occult and comic books. He was 9 and on holiday in the south of France with his family when he saw a tarot deck for the first time.
“My auntie is a proper, traditional, old Greek lady and would read coffee grounds and tea leaves, so it was all around us,” he says. “I just got more and more into it and spent time with psychics and psychologists and hypnotists and magicians, just trying to steal lots of bits from everyone to build this repertoire of being able to read minds.”
Antoniou started performing in comedy clubs at age 18 while studying music — he’s a lifelong cellist — at university. He later moved to London and got involved in the cabaret and burlesque scene, including as a cabaret host at the Hippodrome Casino London before touring Europe with his own solo show.
Antoniou’s approach shares some similarities with magician Derek DelGaudio, whose “In & Of Itself” became a buzz magnet on Hulu earlier this year.
“Something that DelGaudio did really well was say, we’re so used to the mental image of a magic show, but what if it was actually just a really personal story of a journey and the magic is almost like special effects in the live show,” Antoniou says. “My main solo show I do at the moment is people think of questions they’ve always wanted to ask a psychic and then my job is to read their mind, tell them what the question is and then we do some stand-up about it or I provide an answer. It’s a vehicle to get to hear some of the incredible stories that people around us are carrying with them.”
As live performance spaces reopen, Antoniou has a show set for 7 p.m. Aug. 13 at Gesa Powerhouse Theatre in Walla Walla.
He sees his “America’s Got Talent” appearances as a useful calling card as he starts his career over in a new country.
For “AGT,” Antoniou pitched the show’s producers his vision of the audition that ultimately appeared on “AGT,” beginning with a homemade dollhouse that was part of his act and culminating in judge Simon Cowell hiding Vergara’s ring. Antoniou found the ring on his first try.
Antoniou had assistance from a Seattle friend in building the dollhouse. Then he had to transport it to Los Angeles for taping his “AGT” audition in March. He bought the dollhouse its own seat on his flight.
“TSA was very confused about why I had a doll’s house with me,” Antoniou says. “They tried to put it through the X-ray machine and it got stuck. They had to shut the X-ray machine down to take it out.”
Antoniou explained to TSA agents at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that the dollhouse was to be used on “AGT,” pointing out each room devoted to a different judge on the show. Small photos of Cowell hung on one wall of the dollhouse.
“At that point, they were completely in,” he says. “They still opened it all up to inspect it and then packaged it back up and said, ‘You can tell Simon Cowell TSA inspected it for him, too.’”
This story has been updated with Antoniou’s live-show appearance date.