Summer for the typical college student usually means jobs, internships, schooling or a lot of TV and Netflix. John Narum does not fit the bill of a typical college student, especially considering what he did this summer. Instead of sitting on the couch watching TV, the NDSU sophomore was actually on TV hearing the sacred words “You’ve got four yeses!” from the celebrity judges on “America’s Got Talent.”
NDSU had already been introduced to the “Yo-Yo Extraordinaire” from his many campus performances and feature in the Dec. 12, 2013 issue of The Spectrum, but America got its chance to see the former 11-year-old world champion in action in season nine of NBC’s hit talent competition.
Starring judges Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum and Howard Stern, the TV show begins in search for America’s top talent acts with auditions in cities across the United States. Three “yeses” from the celebrity judges get the contestant a trip to the next round. But not many know the casting that takes place long before the shows air.
“For me, it was actually a seven-month process for me to even get on the show,” said Narum, who is majoring in manufacturing engineering. “I sent my video in around November, and then I got an email from them saying they would like to see me for a casting call.”
That was around January when Narum went to Indiana to audition in front of a panel of producers, who passed him through to New Jersey and the first round of televised performances in front of the celebrity judges and a filled auditorium of around 4,000.
“Before going out on to the stage, I had some thoughts rolling around through my head,” Narum said. “This could end up being one of the most humiliating times of my life, and I would have to embarrassingly say, ‘I did that,’ or it could be one of the best times of my life and I could proudly say, ‘I did that.’”
Standing backstage, Narum could hear some of the acts performing before him and the boos of the audience or every buzzed “X” from the judges, making him a little more nervous.
“When you immediately walk out on the stage, you can’t see anyone in front of you because the lights are directly focused on you, but when I started, I just lost myself in that moment and didn’t make any mistakes,” Narum said. “I looked up at the end of my act, and everyone was on their feet. I couldn’t help it but cry because it was one of the most rewarding points in my life ever just to know what I did and that something so small can reach such a big audience.”
Even with the captivated audience behind him, Narum’s future rested in the hands of the four judges, who admittedly said they expected him to be one of the “joke” acts. However, once Narum started his routine, they were blown away and sent him through to the next round with four “yeses.”
Narum flew out to New York City in June for a week and a half to film “Judgment Week,” the last stop before the live quarterfinals in Radio City Music Hall. During Judgment Week, Narum got the opportunity to talk with all four of the celebrity judges to meet them and see what he could do to make it to the next round.
“The judges said the biggest challenge for me was that I had to be a performer filling up the massive auditorium with my yo-yo,” Narum said. “Tricks are cool and all, but unless you can do something that involves the audience, the whole act would just go out the window. That meant I had to focus on what I’d call ‘big moves’ with added elements like acrobatics. I wanted to stand out against the other yo-yoers that have been on the show before.”
With a unique idea to present more of a modern, artistic element to his act, Narum put his yo-yos under UV light while performing in front of just the judges. After what he considered was a flawless performance, Narum was asked to come back in front of the judges, who ultimately decided that was the end of the road.
“When I first got eliminated, I was pretty bummed, because I thought I had a performance that was good enough to go through, while some of the other acts had made mistakes,” Narum said.
One of those acts that made it through was Juan Carlos, a Latino rollerblade dancer, who many believed did not deserve to make it to the next round, especially with other acts like Narum out of the competition. But Narum knew he is still in college and has a solid plan for his future as a manufacturing engineer.
Some of his favorite experiences with “America’s Got Talent” are from the people involved in the show, from the acts to the judges to the host, Nick Cannon.
“Nick Cannon is like a little kid,” said Narum jokingly. “He’s pretty much a normal person besides the fact that he had this big, hulking bodyguard following him everywhere.
“During Judgment Week, Nick said he remembered me from the first audition, and he told me I looked nervous as hell. I told him, ‘Ya, I definitely was. I couldn’t speak,” and he chuckled back, ‘Ya, you really couldn’t.’”
Narum still watches the show and thinks about the interactions he has had with the people remaining in the competition, for instance Jaycob Curlee, who was adopted coming from an abusive, neglectful home.
“He seemed like a confused high school kid about to go to college, but he’s also got this incredible voice,” Narum said. “It was cool to have the interactions with those people and know, talent aside, that they are normal people trying to make something for themselves on the show.”
Mike Super, who performed last year at NDSU Oct. 22, is a spiritual mind illusionist and Narum’s favorite contestant remaining in the competition.
“I really like Mike as a person because he was such a down to earth guy,” Narum said. “I told him that I felt I had seen him at my university, and he said, ‘Oh ya, was it North Dakota State? You guys were one on my favorite shows!’”
Even though he would like to progress further into the competition, Narum knew he had such a unique opportunity to experience “America’s Got Talent.”
“I got to see the judges one-on-one and see what they are actually like as people instead of what you just see on television. I also got to meet some amazing people in acts from all around the country that had some really inspiring stories” Narum said. “There are so many dreams that can come true from that 90-second audition, and for me it did come true.”