KINGSTON, R.I. – June 16, 2014 – Millions of Americans will find out Tuesday night what thousands of University of Rhode Island and other college students already know – Mat Franco is a skilled and funny magician.
The Newport resident and 2010 URI graduate will audition June 17 on America’s Got Talent, which airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on WJAR, NBC 10.
Named 2013’s Best Male Performer by Campus Activities Magazine, Franco has been wowing freshman orientation audiences at URI’s Kingston Campus since he was a student. Most shows end with standing ovations. Franco, who grew up in Johnston, is performing a full slate of shows for this year’s URI orientation program, which runs through the end of June.
He has won strong reviews for performances at hundreds of schools, including University of Florida, Kansas State University, University of Connecticut, University of North Carolina and California State University.
Franco, who majored in marketing at URI’s College of Business Administration, began performing when he was 4 years old.
His audition was taped in April before a live audience of about 3,000 people in the famed Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, where the Academy Awards were held.
“I have performed before big audiences, but being in such an iconic place in front of so many people, was unbelievable,” said Franco, who graduated from Johnston High School.
“I am a live performer, so being in front of so many cameras was very different for me, and having a celebrity panel of judges front and center was pretty crazy. I had never done anything like that before.”
He also enjoyed being back stage with all of the different acts, saying that “it was wild, kind of kooky where you meet all different types of acts. You might meet a bearded lady, a 13-year-old comic and a singer. Imagine hanging out with them for a few days.”
Franco’s obsession with magic began when he was just a little boy and watched magic acts on TV.
At just 12 years old, after saving money from local shows, he traveled to Las Vegas to study and learn from some of magic’s biggest names.
A few years later, he was invited back to Las Vegas as a teenager, hired to perform at the Riviera Hotel and Casino as part of the Society of American Magicians National Convention.
Also a founder of Franco Talent, a specialty talent agency featuring the best college performers, he said his family has always been supportive, encouraging him to do what he loved.
Franco said without URI, his career never would have developed.
“It wouldn’t have even been a possibility without the business education I received at URI,” Franco said. “I had to learn the business side of things to maintain my magic habit. When I started, people learned about me through word of mouth, and I handed out business cards. But the marketing program at URI was just fantastic, and it gave me a perspective on things and where I could go as an entrepreneur.”
But outside the classroom, he learned people skills.
“I was a URI freshman orientation leader for two years, and then as a junior I was a program assistant. Then, as a senior, I was a student co-coordinator for the entire program. This was the most rewarding experience where I learned a lot about other people and myself.”
Jayne Richmond, dean of URI’s University College for Academic Success, which oversees freshman orientation, said Franco “understands the joys of college and speaks with the audience in a most authentic way. His humor is gentle and very contemporary. He also tells students about his own journey, working with former University College academic advisor Linda Lyons (now assistant dean) and together they figured out how to go from undecided to a business major with a strategy to incorporate his love of magic into a full-time career.”
Photo is courtesy of Mat Franco