Max Major, the mentalist and alumnus of South Carroll High School, made a deep run on “America’s Got Talent,” but fell just short of making the finals.
It took until the last seconds of the NBC competition show’s Wednesday evening broadcast for Major to find out that his run was over, with judges Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara both voting for another act, Bad Salsa, to go through. There was a chance for Major to get a “save” and be pushed through to the final on the strength of fan voting, but another competitor got that boost.
In that moment, Major experienced a range of emotions — hurt and frustration, but then joy and gratitude.
“I’m pretty grateful that I was able to continue performing and entertaining the world at a time when I think people really need entertainment,” he told the Times in an interview Thursday. “I’m pretty proud of the things I made and how far I went.”
Major made it to the semifinals round, but will miss out on the nationally televised competition’s grand prize: $1 million and a headline show in Las Vegas. Only five spots for the finals were available out of 11 acts remaining before the Wednesday night broadcast.
For his performance in the semifinals, Major turned to the roulette wheel. He began his act Tuesday night by saying that making it this far in the competition felt like winning the lottery. He enlisted the help of judge Heidi Klum, having her hide a poker chip behind her back and then hold out both fists, with the chip hidden inside one. Of course, he guessed correctly.
For the main part of his performance, they turned to the roulette table. Klum recorded numbers between one and 36 that were picked by herself, host Terry Crews, fellow judges Mandel and Vergara, and two randomly selected audience members, seemingly a mother and daughter, who were watching remotely.
Then Klum spun the roulette wheel, landing on a number that no one had picked: 13. Major then said he wasn’t aiming for one in 36 — rather, one in a million. He asked Klum to open a wallet on the stage, and revealed a lottery ticket showing every single number that had been picked.
But wait! On the back of the ticket was a note, “Go bigger," in reference to a bit of constructive criticism Vergara had for Major after his previous act. So, he said, he kept that in mind, not only by placing this real bet, but also by taking out a billboard in Hollywood with all of the selected numbers — as well as 13.
“Even when it feels like it’s all up to chance, you can always trust your instincts,” he said, closing his act.
The performance earned the audience’s approval, with a swell of applause, but some of the judges were a bit tougher. Vergara and Mandel both said they were somewhat confused by the act, though Klum defended it, describing it as “terrific.”
On Wednesday, Mandel did walk back his criticism, saying he watched the performance again and wasn’t confused on second viewing. But he gave an edge to Bad Salsa, a dancing duo from India.
After his performance, though, some viewers complained on Twitter that Major got a wrong number, saying that an audience member picked 13 for the roulette wheel but Major repeated it back as 14. That would have meant that his lottery ticket numbers were one off.
Major acknowledged the concern Wednesday morning, tweeting “Is 13/14 the new Blue Dress?” in a reference to a viral debate from 2015 about whether a dress was white and gold or blue and black.
Major said he watched the video back 100 times since then. He says the audio volume viewers heard on the broadcast was different from what he heard live on the stage.
“Throughout my performance I was having a really tough time hearing the judges, but especially hearing the Zoom audience. It was almost impossible to hear the mother on Zoom. And then the daughter was even harder,” he said. “I repeated what I heard her say which, to me, was 14.”
Regardless of the outcome, Major said he wouldn’t change a thing about his time on the show. He was blown away by the support he received from Carroll County and Marylanders in general. He said Mandel remarked over the number of Major fans who sent the judge messages.
In his performance in the quarterfinal round, which aired Aug. 25, Major asked one of the judges and scores of audience members to draw anything that came into their minds — and all involved drew some version of a smiling sun. He explained on stage at the end of his act that he used subliminal messaging, hiding multiple images of a sun in plain sight throughout a video of himself that the judges and audience had previously seen.
“There’s nothing I could have done differently, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he told the Times in an interview after that performance but before learning whether he would advance. “I feel amazing with how it went, and that’s all you can really do.”
Before “America’s Got Talent,” the Woodbine native put on shows at an early age, and then in his teens he performed at the Carroll County 4-H and FFA Fair where he demonstrated feats of mentalism, which he has described as a marriage between a magician’s showmanship and psychology, mixed with science and hypnosis.
“I did one of my very first shows ever, as like, a 14-year-old kid at the Carroll County fair,” Major said Thursday. “Now 22 years later, I’m performing in the semifinals of ‘America’s Got Talent.’ I mean, who would have thought? Certainly that 14-year-old kid wouldn’t have thought.”
Although he’s looking forward to a restful break after his run, Major teased one last trick.