For decades the name Uri Geller has been synonymous with psychic phenomena. Best known for bending spoons, altering compass headings, stopping clocks – including Big Ben – reading minds, and any number of extra sensory feats, his fame as a ‘mystifier’ in Israel prompted the creation of the show ‘The Successor,’ which sought specifically to introduce the world to next torch bearer of Uri’s paranormal gig. The success of ‘The Successor’ caught the eye of NBC, and prompted an Americanized version Phenomenon, with a high powered all-American co-host in Criss Angel. Geller sat down with us to discuss the show, his own ‘abilities,’ and his beliefs in real ‘magic.’

This is Jon Lachonis with BuddyTV. I’m here with Uri Geller who is the co-host of NBC’s reality competition show, Phenomenon. Uri will be joined by co-host Criss Angel as they provide feedback to a select group of magicians, mentalists, and proposed psychics as they vie for the title of: Phenomenon. Uri, you hosted a similar version of this show in Israel, how was the show received over there?

It broke all historical rating records. For me, it was extraordinary. Although yes, it is tiny Israel, but the streets were empty. That’s when it all started. The competitors in Israel were magnificent. They were quite amazing. And because of the success of the show in Israel, it was taken to MTI in Europe and NBC grabbed it. I know that when Ben Silverman was asked: ‘Why are you taking or getting a show steeped in controversy?’ Ben Silverman said: ‘Because I have goose bumps when I watch the successor.’ So that’s how it all started.                    

Did you have a co-host on the Israeli version as well?

No I did not. I was alone there and it was difficult. It wasn’t easy to be alone. Remember, I’m not a judge. I just monitor and give verdicts on the acts that I see. It was quite lonely sitting there alone knowing other reality TV shows like American Idol, where you’ve got the Simon Cowell’s, you have two or three judges. When I discussed this with NBC and Ben, Ben said: ‘You know what, maybe you should be there with someone else like Criss Angel.’ And I said: ‘Criss Angel? You’ll never get Criss Angel, c’mon.’ I’ve never met Criss Angel, but he’s the number one mystifier in the United States. And then I also heard that he signed like a $200 million contract in Vegas and these people, like Criss Angel, are booked years ahead. And Ben said: ‘I’ll do my magic.’ And he got Criss Angel. Haha. 

Now you mentioned in the past the controversy surrounding you, could you explain that a little more?

Oh absolutely. Look, from the first day that I came on the scene, I immediately became controversial. There are people that do not believe in paranormal powers. They do not believe in the supernatural and so on; including, by the way, Criss Angel. He’s a non-believer. And that’s why there’s probably going to be some friction between us on verdicts and so forth. People already in Israel, and we’re going back to 1968 you were probably not even born then, scientists attacked me and magicians attacked me because I claimed that this power was coming from some other outside source and so forth. But I also realized that controversy is amazingly important to one’s career. Yes, when I was young and gullible I thought controversy would destroy me. And the biggest lesson happened on Johnny Cason, I’ll never forget the day; we’re going back now 35 years. Johnny Carson invited me to do the show, and I thought ‘Wow, Johnny Carson! This is a dream come true.’ Anyone who gets on Johnny Carson makes it in the United States. And I walked into a trap because he was, unknown to me, an amateur magician and he got some magicians to set me up. And I simply failed. Nothing worked. The spoon that I bent … he made fun of it. It wasn’t bent enough for him. There I sat, 22 minutes, humiliated on his show, and the only thought that kind of zoomed through my mind is: ‘Uri Geller, you’re finished. Go back to your hotel, pack up, and go back to Israel.’ I went back to my hotel totally depressed and I suddenly get a phone call from downstairs, ‘Mr. Geller. Merv Griffin is on the line.’ And I said: ‘Are you serious!? You mean, THE Merv Griffin?’ And he said ‘Yeah.’ And Merv got on the phone and said: ‘Uri, I want you on my show.’ And then it was Mike Douglas, then Mike Wallace, and Tom Snyder. So that’s when I realized that ‘Hey, controversy for me is great!’ And basically what the cynics and the skeptics have done for me is what I probably would have had to pay two million dollars to a good PR agent to do. If not more. So the controversy and the arguments, is it real, is it not? I guess kept me constantly in the limelight. And here I am, 40 years later, Johnny Carson NBC 35 years ago, Uri Geller NBC, 2007.

So for the record, at this point, you still present as having legitimate psychic abilities?

Okay, that’s a very good question Jon. You know what? Today, I’m kind of careful about what I say. Not intentionally careful, but I would rather be known as a mystifier because lets face it, this is what I did throughout my life. And you know, no matter how trivial the spoon bending looks and the watch fixing, and all these feats that I’ve done on Television … I actually penetrated those into American culture. You look at The Matrix, the first Matrix where Keanu Reeves walks into the oracle and children teach him how to bend a spoon … big rock bands like R.E.M., Incubus, sing about Uri Geller. So there’s kind of a mystification around the things I do. So, if you asked me today: ‘Uri, what do you do? Is it real?’ Let me put it this way, is it an illusion? Is it real? Or is it beyond belief? And I turn to you and I say: ‘You make up your mind. I would rather stay a mystery.’

Haha. So, on that note, having seen some people in the Israeli version of the show, have you seen anything personally that has convinced you that these powers definitively exist?

Jon look, I’m an open minded person. I’m not a skeptic or a cynic. Of course I believe in powers. I would be an idiot If I were to not believe in some kind of supernatural energy out there. You know, I just have to go back to 1925 and show you scientifically that energy’s exist. You know, in 1925 Eienstein wrote a very powerful quote and equation that if you still asked people on the street, they wouldn’t know what it means. E=Mc2 (squared). And what that means is if you touch the table, or walk over to the wall and you bang your hand on the wall … it’ll feel solid to you. But I have a surprise for you, it’s not solid. There is nothing solid in the Universe. Everything is made from energy. If you put a microscope into that wall or into your hand you will see cells, you’ll find molecules, you’ll find atoms and inside the atoms, energy. It’s a new quantum mechanic theory. So, everything vibrates in the universe. Everything has a frequency. Even our mind thought have a pattern of a frequency to it. Our mind thoughts probably have biological properties and biochemical properties. If you believe that, and it’s scientifically proven then your spirit can not be destroyed. That’s another aspect of Energy. Energy can not be destroyed. Therefore, why not believe that when one dies their spirit survives? Of course I believe in that. And, you know, it’s very difficult to prove but there is no doubt in my mind that there is more to our five senses. I’m sure there’s a sixth sense.

Now, have you met any of the contestants for Phenomenon yet?

You know, they’re keeping us away. They’re keeping Criss and me away from the contestants. But you know, when you walk in the corridor you’re bound to see someone. Or the line-up, when we did our dress rehearsal, they were all backstage and I was very moved by one of them. One of them said to me: ‘You know Uri, we’re like your children.’ And I said ‘What do you mean?’ And they said: ‘Well you started mentalism. 40 years ago.’ And that was really nice to hear. I can tell you that when I watched the dress rehearsal, I was practically shocked by some of the acts. I mean they are, just … mind-blowing. And this is what makes this show, I think … there’s one more thing I want to add to your last question. When I get on the stage in Israel, I was asked by the host: ‘Uri, what are these guys? Are they illusionists? Are they magicians? Are they paranormalists? Are they psychics? Are they mentalists? What are they?’ And my answer was, and will be also now: I don’t care what they are. I don’t care how they do it. What I do care about is the most mind-blowing, mesmerizing, magnetic performance in the world. I want to be mind blown. I want to see my hair on my arms stand on end. And that’s what Phenomenon is about. It’s entertainment. It’s mystification. It’s mystery. It’s unusual acts. It’s Charisma. It’s personality. It’s character. It’s how you roll your act out, and I will take all those elements in consideration when I give a verdict.

– Jon Lachonis, BuddyTV Senior Writer

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Senior Writer, BuddyTV