A Christian magician who gained popularity with tricks about family, hope and generosity won NBC's America's Got Talent and its $1 million prize Wednesday night following a final act in which he urged the audience to be more charitable.
Dustin Tavella won the contest in what was the closest vote in the 16-year history of the variety talent show. The winner was determined in a vote by viewers. He also won a show in Las Vegas.
With fireworks exploding and confetti falling, Tavella covered his face in disbelief, hugged second-place contestant Aidan Bryant, and thanked his wife, children, parents and fans.
🚨 WINNER, WINNER 🚨— America’s Got Talent (@AGT) September 16, 2021
The next winner of America's Got Talent is the one and only... pic.twitter.com/nWNQAqiJMZ
"Thank you guys so much," he said. "This is absolutely amazing. I never thought that I would be here. … I love you guys so much."
Tavella, after he won, told Entertainment Tonight that he had auditioned multiple times for America's Got Talent in past seasons before making the 2021 show.
"This is what I was hoping for. This is what I was praying for," he told Entertainment Tonight. "... I am so blessed."
Each of Tavella's tricks had a theme. In Tavella's final trick of the season, he urged the audience to be generous and told them that a "small act of kindness can go a really long way." In August, Tavella told the audience that good can come out of a messy life. In that trick, he incorporated his two young adopted sons.
This summer, Tavella told YouTube personality Ruslan that his goal is to incorporate positive messages in his illusions.
"When I get to celebrate the principles of God, when I get to celebrate the things that God's done in our lives, … that, to me, is the main thing that we want to do," Tavella said. "[It is to] continue to be intentional with every story we get to tell and every bit of airtime."
Responding to Christians who may be skeptical of magic tricks, Tavella said, "I don't have powers. This is just me trying to have fun and kind of create wonder for people." Magic tricks, he said, involve "cultivating mystery and wonder through sneakiness."
In recent years he and his wife, Kari, have been involved in homeless ministry and a crisis pregnancy ministry.
"We just want to help empower people, and we want to be a bridge between the church and the not-church – to get the people not in church into the church, and to get the people in the church, outside of the walls," he said.
Tavella also has partnered with Compassion International, a worldwide Christian ministry for children in poverty.
"Long before 'America's Got Talent,' Dustin has had a heart for those less fortunate," said Jordan Greiner, relationship manager at Compassion International. "You can see that reflected in his own family and in his history serving the homeless in Los Angeles. That heart carries over to children all over the world living in extreme poverty. We want to congratulate Dustin on last night's victory, and we are so grateful to come alongside him to release children from poverty in Jesus' name."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Amy Sussman/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.