In 2006, magician Justin Willman entered the culinary world with a guest spot on Rachael Ray. He?s since become the host of reality competitions on Food Network, including the six-episode Last Cake Standing and fan favorite Cupcake Wars, now in its ninth season. The shows don’t involve magic, but they do rely on Willman’s quick wit and improvisation: qualities the 33-year-old also employs when he tours as a magician. If magic and cakes weren’t enough, Willman also makes regular appearances on The Tonight Show and Ellen, and come January he will host a revamped Win, Lose or Draw on Disney Channel. For his first official Las Vegas performance, Willman’s doing double-duty: performing his live magic show, Tricked Out on July 13-14 and judging the Las Vegas Cupcake Bake-Off on July 14. Here he shares the enchanting ingredients inside his bag of tricks.
You’ve been to Las Vegas before. What did you do when you were here in the past?
It’s my first time playing Vegas as a headlining act. It’s a boyhood dream come true. When I was a kid, around 15 or 16, I would do magic competitions and a lot of those were in Vegas. But that was like a whole past life. That was me in a tuxedo with birds. I put my sister in a French maid’s outfit as my lovely assistant. It was a different job then.
Had you always planned on a career as a performer? You studied journalism in college, correct?
That’s correct. [I went to school] to do what you’re doing. Did you go to college for magic? You’d be my dream woman. … I have good parents who wouldn’t let me get away with going to magic college, which doesn’t exist anyway. I grew up watching The Tonight Show, and I figured that you can’t major in “Hosting The Tonight Show,” but the next best thing you can do is major in broadcast journalism and figure out how be a natural on television.
Given all your screen time, you must attract a wide audience. To whom do you gear your magic?
I like to write it like a good Pixar movie where it’s a little something for everybody. There’s tons of stuff that kids would enjoy without it being a kiddie show.
In addition to comedy, what else can people expect from your live show?
We have these high-tech magical devices around at all times that do impossible things that we take for granted. I like to point out the parallel between magic that restores our childlike wonder and also do magic with high-tech devices. The show is about reminding ourselves how cool it is to not know how something works. We can’t go two minutes of not knowing something before we Google it. Being able to live for more than an hour in your seat where things are unexplainable and you learn to love it and feel good about it, that’s what I like to bring to the people.
Describe your most memorable trick-gone-wrong.
I’m sure there are so many times when something has gone wrong, but those are the things that my therapist helps me forget.
With so many hosting gigs, do you think you’re encroaching on Ryan Seacrest territory?
I’m not encroaching on Ryan Seacrest money yet. But I am encroaching on his territory.
What word best describes what you do?
Entertainer. That’s broad enough. Hopefully people will be entertained, and hopefully not expect me to take my clothes off. Actually, I do take my clothes off in one trick. I don?t want to lie to you, that is part of the show. It’s a family show still. It will make sense when you see it.
Now that you have your first headlining shows here, would you consider a Las Vegas residency?
Not one where I’d have to up and implant my life and live in Las Vegas, but I’d like to maintain a variety of things. Hopefully it will manifest when the time is right and I?ll have some temporary home to come and do my thing, venture off to tour and come back and do my thing again.
A lot of DJs are doing that these days. They come in for a show about once and month and then they take off.
Vegas loves those DJs! I could do that. I have an iPod. Right?
You can add even one more item to your resume.
I will. How about “Magician-DJ Wars?” Something like that.
You’ve also been posting a lot of videos on Vine. How do you find time for that?
Over the past month we’ve been shooting Cupcake Wars. We have it down to such a well-oiled machine that I clearly have the time to shoot multiple times a day and still do my job. It’s fun at this point because the people who know the show and watch the show kind of like making fun of it a little bit. If you follow me on Twitter you can keep up with my shameless self-promotion.
Justin Willman’s Tricked Out Tour
Suncoast Showroom, 7:30 p.m. July 13-14, $18-$44, 636-7075, SuncoastCasino.com.
Las Vegas Cupcake Bake-Off
Suncoast Grand Ballroom, noon July 14, $20 ($10 per child), BakeLV.com.