August 20, 2014

Local performer’s act sparks judges’ interest

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Sam Johnson and his 6-year-old son, Phinneas, who likes to imitate his father. (Observer courtesy photo by Denise Johnson)

Sam Johnson and his 6-year-old son, Phineaus, who likes to imitate his father. (Observer courtesy photo by Denise Johnson)

Williston resident in America’s Got Talent quarterfinals

By Heleigh Bostwick

Observer correspondent

July 25th, 2013

“I made it,” said Sam Johnson, whose recent performance in Las Vegas juggling torches while doused in gasoline earned him a place in the next round of America’s Got Talent—and one step closer to the $1 million prize.

Johnson, who lives in Williston and goes by the stage name Slackwire Sam, is one of 60 contestants chosen to compete in the NBC reality show’s quarterfinals, held over the next four to five weeks at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do a third act,” he said. “It’s exciting in the traditional sense, but there’s also another sense of excitement in knowing you need to prepare for another one—almost a nervous excitement because the pressure’s on to come up with the next act.”

During the first round of America’s Got Talent, which was held in New Orleans, Johnson climbed an 80-foot sway pole and did a handstand at the top of the platform.

“I’m in the danger category so I have to do something different every time,” he explained.

Johnson said that the show’s requirement of “thrill us in 90 seconds” is easy compared to the four- to six-minute routines he had to come up with for his three 30-minute shows a day on the fair circuit, where he performed as an entertainer for many years.

“They’re just asking for the big wow here. I could keep coming up with things for an entire year,” he said. “The fair circuit was a good training ground for trying out new acts and seeing what people respond to.”

His biggest challenge is balancing work, getting his equipment ready—which hasn’t been used for several years since he retired—and being with his son.

“It’s a very busy time right now,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of his parents.

“I go back and forth between feeling terrified and proud,” Johnson’s mom, Denise Johnson, said. “I know that he’s well prepared and if conditions weren’t right, he’d call it off.”

Johnson’s son, 6-year-old Phineaus, was not allowed to watch his Las Vegas act, but he has seen the video of his first show.

“He likes to act out the video,” Johnson said. “He’ll make us say the things that the judges said to me, like, ‘What’s your name? What are you going to do for us?’ and I’m supposed to answer like I do in the show.”

Johnson recalled how, at one point, judge Howard Stern made a comment that he didn’t like Johnson’s hat, so he threw it across the room. “Phin makes me do that scenario, too,” Johnson laughed. “He also likes to flop on the chair upside down and pretend to do a handstand.”

Johnson won’t reveal what his next act is—it’s top secret.

“At the end of my last performance Howard [Stern] said to me, ‘You’ve amped it up really high and it’s still early. Can you continue?’”

“All I can say is that it’s going to be big,” he said chuckling. “My next act will be so big you’ll forget the first two.”

“Sam is a true showman,” Denise Johnson said. “He not only can perform a big act, he can sell a big act. If someone asks him to do a danger act, he’ll do it, but he will be meticulously safe.”

Even so, she’ll be holding her breath for the next act, she said.

His live performance will be shown on NBC sometime in mid to late August, but an exact date has yet to be announced.

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