Toledo teen competes in Italian magic showWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Teenage magician and Toledoan Eli Portala recently returned from Italy after appearing on what he called the “magic version of ‘American Idol.’”
“It went great; I had a great time; I got some great feedback. I’m just speechless that I’m so young and I got to go out there and perform,” said the exuberant 16-year-old.
Eli left Toledo for Rome on April 27 to appear on “La Grande Magia — The Illusionist,” on Canale 5, Italy’s largest television network. Producers, looking for the top 30 magicians younger than 30, found Eli when he was performing at the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas in March 2011.
The winner of the show is slated to get a monthlong contract as a show-opener in Las Vegas. “La Grande Magia — The Illusionist” will air in the fall, and the Portala family is not permitted to discuss where the five judges ranked Eli on his award-winning dove act until then. Judges included Ed Alonzo, who developed magic tricks for a Britney Spears tour.
The teen magician was skeptical at first about appearing in Italy. “I was unsure about the show. I was like ‘OK, is this really gonna happen?’ But as time went on I was like ‘This is really happening,’” said Eli, who returned to Toledo on May 7.
Magic runs in Eli’s blood. His father, Andrew Martin (Portala), has been a magician for 40 years and got Eli involved at an early age.
“When I was very young, I mimicked him. I would do his movements and I always wanted to be like dad from a very early age. When I was about 3 years old, that was the first time he got me on stage and I did a trick and he didn’t even know I was gonna do a trick. It was this trick where I have a magic wand and I take it and it turns into two. And nobody had any clue that this little 3-year-old kid could do this amazing trick and so the crowd went crazy and my dad was on the floor probably laughing,” Eli recalled.
Eli’s mother, Melissa Portala, manages the business and marketing side of the Portalas’ careers while his sister Emma, 13, often serves as her brother’s assistant. Melissa, Emma and a tutor accompanied the teen magician to Rome.
“Everybody has their job and then we can do things together. And the kids as they grow up, we’re helping them achieve their dreams, watching them do what they love. The only hard part of a business like ours is when you’re sick. You cannot take the time off — you have to do the show,” Melissa said.
“She’ll pull out the IV and say ‘I’m sorry, he’s got a show to do,’” Andrew joked.
Both parents are proud of their son. “It’s pretty amazing,” Andrew said, while Eli interjected, “He usually says, ‘That’s my boy!’”
Still, the father/son magicians have somewhat different personas. “Andy is more zany. Eli’s very funny, but his dove act we’re going over is very sophisticated. Andy’s very comical in his stage work. Andy does a lot of sleight of hand, which Eli does a little bit of, but not as much,” Melissa said
Andrew put it more simply. “[Eli’s] better looking and skinnier,” he said.
Eli, a freshman at the Toledo School for the Arts, was the youngest magician on the show, something that didn’t really faze him.
“He used to it. He won’t be the youngest one forever, but he’s been the youngest one competing since he was 6 so this is kind of normal,” Melissa said.
Eli has the credentials to back up his mother’s confidence. He is the youngest winner ever of the International Brotherhood of Magician’s Jr. Award and the youngest and only two-time winner of Abbott’s Magic Get-Together magic contest.
This is not the first time the Portala family has appeared on TV. The magic-centered group was on “Wife Swap” in 2008 when Melissa traded places with a California wife.
“It was interesting, fun, hectic for about two weeks. It was nonstop camera, camera, camera and it all happened in your home; like your home got turned into a studio lot,” Eli said.
The Italy trip was exactly what Eli and his mother had hoped for. “We’re so blessed that he’s taking us all these crazy places,” Melissa said. The teen already traveled to Chicago to study with Second City over spring break and has bookings in Indianapolis and St. Louis over the summer.
When Eli wasn’t performing in front of the live audience of about 200 in Italy, he was sightseeing the Sistine Chapel, the catacombs and the Colosseum. The teenager, who turned 16 when he was overseas, considered having a “cup of wine,” because the drinking age in Italy is lower, another highlight of the trip.
Eli will perform in the area at 7 p.m. June 11 at the Maumee Library, 501 River Road. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/MagicWithEli.