Can Dustin Tavella's AGT semifinal performance be explained?

Bruno Cooke September 1, 2021
Can Dustin Tavella's AGT semifinal performance be explained?


AGT magician Dustin Tavella’s semifinal performance got the judges – including Simon Cowell – out of their seats, but like every trick, it can be explained. How did he do it?

How did people react to Tavella’s latest trick?

Like English psychic-cum-magician Peter Antoniou’s quarterfinals performance, which saw Sofia Vergara eating pineapple while wearing a blindfold, Dustin Tavella’s latest trick is impressive, but it can be explained.

It certainly impressed the judges. Meanwhile, the commenters on its YouTube video have described it variously as “long-winded”, “blatantly obvious”, “amazing” and simply “good”.

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One even said it made their “eyes self-lubricate”…

But the highest praise may actually be for the judges themselves. Howie stating his colourblindness, when asked to choose a coloured envelope, caused ripples of amusement. And Sofia’s “antics” regarding Heidi’s X/ex-husband went down like a house on fire. 

Explaining Dustin Tavella’s AGT semifinal performance

One YouTube commenter raised the point that Tavella directed the judges to say what they’d picked “out LOUD instead of being discreet”.

The indication here is that “someone had to hear the verbal cue” in order to write down whatever they said. Having two assistants bring on a ladder is also suspect – couldn’t it have been there the whole time?

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Also, notice the metal door Tavella opens in order to extract the envelope from behind Heidi’s X. It swings down to conceal the top of the ladder, meaning the envelope could have been placed there by a backstage assistant.

As one user summarises, “even if I don’t know exactly how he did it, i feel as though I do”. Another, meanwhile, wrote that Tavella is “one of the best magicians on the show”.

What’s the story behind his family?

During his audition performance, Dustin Tavella introduced his wife Kari, and their adopted son Xander. 

Per his own narration, he and Kari adopted Xander on 21 February, 2020 when he was two months old. He was in a “pretty rocky situation”. 

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Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

The final stroke of his performance – revealing Xander’s birth mother holding a placard bearing the word “power” – earned him a standing ovation from all four judges.

Reddit weighs in

With regard to this particular trick, one Reddit user wrote: “The images in these tricks are almost always embedded from the Internet and not attachments, so they can be adjusted on-the-fly. 

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The Father | Official Trailer

The Father | Official Trailer

“The email will just reference the image at a specific URL that’s not downloaded until the recipient opens the email. It doesn’t explain every element, but he did at least hear “Smith” before the images were downloaded by Terry.”

Another claimed that Terry himself is “always in on the trick”.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or