HAZARD — The audience gasped when illusionist Mike Super revealed that he had accurately predicted two major headlines on the front page of Tuesday's Lexington Herald-Leader: "Wall Street rallies ravenously" and "Hoof injury ends Big Brown's career."
"He can't really predict the future," said Hazard Police Chief Ronnie Bryant. "But how else did he get it right? It just doesn't make sense."
That's the way many in the audience of about 50 people at the Hal Rogers Center felt Tuesday, asking: How did he do that?
Super was the winner last year of $250,000 on the NBC reality show Phenomenon: The Search for the Next Great Mentalist. Two weeks ago, he said that he could predict the big headline in Tuesday's Lexington Herald-Leader. If he was wrong, he would refund money for tickets to his evening show in Hazard.
Many thought the master illusionist, magician, mentalist, phenomenon, or whatever you might call him, would be right.
But they also thought they could figure out how he did it — especially Bryant, who had a bird's eye view when the prediction was opened on stage.
Super recorded his prediction on a cassette tape on Sept. 29 in Los Angeles and then mailed it to Hazard. The envelope was locked in a safety-deposit box at People's Bank & Trust the next day.
Since then, Bryant has guarded the keys to the box. He carried the tape on stage, put it in the cassette player and pushed play.
Super never touched the tape.
Even though the crowd expected the result, they appeared stunned as they applauded when the headlines were played exactly as they appeared in the newspaper.
"Since I was close up, I thought I could figure out what he was doing, whether he was switching the tape," said Bryant. "But he never touched the tape. We all saw it. It was kind of spooky. I want to ask him if he wants to go to Keeneland with me."
Super, who has been performing magic and illusions since he was 6, is particularly popular since winning on Phenomenon. The show had 10 entertainers compete for viewers' votes over five weeks. In 2009, he is expected to star in his own weekly television series.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Super said, he did shows in his back yard for friends, charging a nickel admission and wearing a black cape.
"My mom came home from work early one day and found 20 people in the back yard," he said after his early show Tuesday. "She was upset that I had charged them. That was the first time I had to give a refund."
Super's mother, who died when he was young, was his biggest supporter, he said. She helped him learn a trick and then, when he performed it as a boy, acted like she'd never seen it done before.
He performed magic to put himself through the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied computer science. Magic has always been his first love, he said.
"I was always convinced that I would do this as a living," Super said while signing autographs after the show. "I love to entertain and to involve the audience."
During his afternoon performance Tuesday, Super also seemed to read minds, appeared to make an audience member levitate, and turned a piece of tissue paper he set on fire into a rose.
Ernesto Gomez, 16, of Jackson, was impressed.
"The voodoo doll was really cool," he said. In that trick, Super made a friend of Gomez feel pain when something was done to the doll — even though the friend had his eyes closed and sat across the stage from Super.
"I've never seen magic before," said Gomez. "It was amazing."
Tammy Duff, director of performing arts at Hazard Community and Technical College, said the coal-mining community hadn't before seen an act like Super's, which mixes magic and comedy. The city had been buzzing about his attempt to predict the news, she said.
Gerald Slone, of Hazard, said he came to the show looking for inspiration. Slone, 33, says he performs magic for birthdays and other events.
"Anybody that misses seeing Mike Super perform is really missing something," Slone said.