Tyra Banks’s face said it all.
Each time Waltham magician Shin Lim showed the “America’s Got Talent” host her card — which, at different points, was tattooed on his chest, frozen in a block of glass, and pulled from an envelope — she looked at him in disbelief. Indeed, after Lim’s sleight-of-hand tricks on the Season 13 premiere of the NBC reality talent show, Banks variously uttered: “Shut up,” “No way,” “Oh my God,” “Whaaaat?,” and “Freaky.”
Afterward, judge Howie Mandel stood up and looked around at the audience.
“By leaps and bounds, [this] is the best sleight-of-hand, close-up magic I have ever seen in my life,” he said.
Spice Girl Mel B told the Acton-Boxborough High School alum: “You are just unbelievable.”
“I still cannot close my mouth. Literally, I feel like I was like this,” said supermodel Heidi Klum, dropping her jaw open.
The judges gave Lim a unanimous “yes,” and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. The clip of that performance has racked up nearly 3 million views on YouTube, and Lim, who was born in Canada but grew up in Acton, is onto the next round.
Reached at his home in Waltham this week, Lim said he started practicing magic at age 16.
“My older brother [Yi] showed me a super simple card trick, and I could learn the rest on YouTube. So I started learning and I got obsessed,” said Lim, who’s 26.
A pianist since age 9, he attended the Lee University School of Music in Tennessee, and planned to become a professional musician, but after being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome at age 20, he decided to pursue magic.
To Lim, it’s an art form, not unlike music.
“I love the way performing feels, especially when I’m performing to music. I feel the song as I’m performing. It’s like a dance, almost,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m doing magic. I’m not trying to fool people. . . . For me it’s a way to express my feelings.”
He was a winner at the 2015 International Federation of Magic Societies World Championships — dubbed the Olympics of magic — toured China and Scandinavia, and gigged in Spain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan, Sweden, Hong Kong, and Singapore, where his parents are from.
“I want America to know about me,” he said. “I thought ‘America’s Got Talent’ was a great platform to showcase my act. . . . I thought the fairest way for people to see me would be on ‘AGT’ — you can’t fake it in front of judges, and a live audience.”
He also hopes viewers appreciate magic in a new light.
“I think people have a negative connotation to card magic. . . . I want magic to be taken seriously and not as a joke,” he said, then added with a laugh: “And [judge] Simon [Cowell] likes it, so that’s all that matters.”
“AGT” airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.