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Criss Angel: Expect "fireworks" on NBC's new 'Phenomenon' series

By Christopher Rocchio, 10/15/2007 

Criss Angel described Phenomenon as "explosive," an aspect of the new NBC reality competition series that attracted the Criss Angel Mindfreak illusionist to work on the project.

"I think it's going to prove to be a very provocative and engaging show that will give talent throughout the world an opportunity to showcase their abilities," Angel told reporters during a conference call last week.  "I just thought a show like this would give people a legitimate opportunity. And to participate in it live is really a selling point for me because I'm going to experience as you and all the home viewers are for the very first time when they're performing it."

Angel and mentalist Uri Gellar will assist the 10 Phenomenon contestants as well as provide their insight, however it will be the home viewers who vote to determine which act eventually claims the show's $250,000 grand prize following the show's five-week broadcast run.

"I think many, many people are fascinated with the unknown, with the ability to do something that is unexplainable.  I think that this show will showcase the best and the worst and the people that claim they potentially [have] this ability because of supernatural reasons, not because it's something that's a trick," said Angel.  "I think all of that stuff is potentially the ingredients for explosive television.  I'm going to be there as the voice of the people. And the minute somebody claims - if they claim - if anybody claims that they have this ability outside of trickery I will expose them."

Phenomenon is scheduled to premiere Wednesday, October 24 at 8PM ET/PT, with NBC broadcasting each of Phenomenon's one-hour episodes live and imploring home viewers to try and debunk the 10 contestants' tricks.

"It's going to be interesting because one of the things that I've requested is I don't want to be in the loop so much. I want to be experiencing the performer for the first moment just as the audience is as they begin their performance," explained Angel.  "So I want to kind of not be tainted by knowing who is doing what or anything like that. I'm going in there just like the audience. So you're going to see my reaction for the first time because it's the first time I'm seeing it."

While Angel admitted he'd "absolutely love to be fooled" by the Phenomenon contestants' performances, he has no problem exposing them on live television if he thinks it's a hoax, which could lead to "fireworks going back and forth."

"I will stand up for the people as Houdini did to expose those who try to take advantage of the vulnerable," said Angel.  "The innocence of a child for the first time seeing something and being in wonder is something I long for because, you know, I'm tainted... I see things and I see it differently. I try to look at it as a spectator but, you know, unless I get amnesia I still can't overlook that. I can appreciate the performance... I just look at it to be true to myself and do what I believe is right. And I think the American public is very smart and will realize that I'm out to be true and to protect them."

Despite not having a final say in which contestant receives the show's grand prize, Angel said he's confident in the home viewers' eventual decision.  He said he never "gave a shit" about what other magicians thought of him, and now he'll have a chance to practice what he preaches on Phenomenon.

"It doesn't matter what I really think," he said.  "If I'm there and I say somebody sucks and yet the American public says they're great, they're the ones who are looking at it through virgin eyes. And they know better than me what the public wants because I'm tainted.  So I trust the American public to pick truly who's the most entertaining because they're going to know who is the most entertaining because, you know, their eyes and their ears are in a way virgin to this subject."

Phenomenon is based on a popular Israeli reality competition series called The Successor, which premiered earlier this year and featured Gellar as a judge and mentor. Angel said the first exposure he had to The Successor was via a YouTube clip.

"I did have the opportunity to meet Uri. And, you know, he was very enthusiastic and very, obviously, very passionate about this incarnation of the show," said Angel.  "I'm excited to be part of it. And I'm waiting to go on the ride just like the home audience will be on. And we'll see what develops. But, you know, at the end of the day I think it - I signed on because I think it's a very intriguing concept."

Angel said what differs Phenomenon from other reality competition shows is its "fascinating" subject matter as well as the fact that "so many people in their life go see a psychic," people will be able to "connect" to it.  While it hasn't even premiered yet, Angel sounded optimistic that Phenomenon could touch a chord with viewers and become a regular series.

"I think the livelihood of the show has the potential to go on and on because there's so many people that want to believe in the supernatural, that want to be able to talk to the dead, that want to believe that you can bend spoons with your mind," he said.  "And I think as long as there are people that want to believe that, there's the need or the demand for a show like this.  Who would ever think that Mindfreak would be in its hundredth episode? So I mean there's an audience out there for this stuff."

Angel said he begins work on Mindfreak's fourth season -- which will inlcude the show's 100th episode -- on October 22, so he'll be filming episodes of his A&E series while simultaneously flying to California every Wednesday to shoot Phenomenon in addition to rehearsing for his live Las Vegas stage show. 

However he sounded most excited to be working on Phenomenon.

"This is an interesting proposition for me because it's a show that I'm not creating. It's a show that I'm not producing. It's a show I'm not directing. It's a show I don't even know what's going to happen," he said.  "So for me that's exciting to be involved in that capacity because it's a different approach for me. And this show is a completely different animal from anything I've ever done or anything I've ever seen."

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