When “Magic Mike Live” opened several years ago, it brought an entirely new energy and experience to Las Vegas. Now, the new reality show “Finding Magic Mike” on HBO MAX goes backstage as ten guys embark on a journey as they compete for the title of the real Magic Mike. We talked with Magic Mike franchise choreographers Alison Faulk and Luke Broadlick, Alycia Rossiter (showrunner and executive producer), and all ten of the contestants to give you a behind-the-scenes (spoiler-free) look at the brand new reality show that debuted this week in this three-part interview series.
“Finding Magic Mike”
A few things to know: “Finding Magic Mike” isn’t like other shows that search for the best dancer. These aren’t ten professional dancers or ten guys voted “most popular” in high school, and that’s what makes this show—for lack of a better word—more magical. Rossiter gave me a summary, “This is a competition show where we asked men who felt like they had lost their magic for whatever reason in these difficult times. We asked them to trust us and come and find their magic through dance. It wasn’t about becoming an amazing dancer; it was about challenging themselves to do something hard, which happened to be dance as choreographed by professionals and to work really hard and do the best that they could and achieve on a weekly basis in a dance performance. If they did a great job, they felt that amazing spring in their step, and if they did a bad job, we mostly tried to keep teaching them so that they could succeed the next time.”
Eliminations were also handled differently than other shows. “Mostly, if you were asked to leave at the end of every episode, it was usually not because you had failed in your dance performance, it was because you weren’t growing or because you weren’t trying it or this wasn’t the right place for you to find your magic,” Rossiter explained.
Meet the Finalists
While the show focuses on ten finalists, the first episode follows along as 50 contestants fly out to Las Vegas in hopes of becoming finalists. The ten who are selected are more than just “average Joes,” each has a unique story and motivation to succeed. “I wanted to do the show for many reasons,” Michael Thântrọng told us. I always wanted to learn how to dance but never took the time. I figured this was perfect timing. I love physical and mental challenges, which is why I train in martial arts. I’ve done powerlifting. I’ve competed in Spartan races. Dance is what’s next for me, and I see myself doing it for a long time. I still have a lot to learn. I also wanted to build my confidence, and what better way than to take my clothes off on stage?”
Many contestants like Adonis Frank had their initial reservations. “I actually wasn’t going to try because I never felt like guys like me would ever make the cut; however, two different friends sent me the audition, so I said screw it, why not.”
While several finalists had plenty of athletic experience, some, like Johnny Dutch, wanted a new experience. “In the middle of track season, I made a decision to hang up my running spikes. I knew I was ready for something different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. After prayer and meditation, the decision to do the show felt right,” he told us. Austin Arizpe works as a stunt performer and comes from a family of dance. “Eight years ago, I compacted a disc in my spine and was told I may never be capable of dancing again, so getting to dance on the magic mike stage was a dream come true.”
Matthew Merlin explained, “I was motivated to try out for the show because it was something I had never done before and given a chance to excel at.” Ricky Negron also expressed excitement over a new experience, “Honestly, I was on the toilet, and my roommate thought I’d be a good fit for, awkwardly enough, Magic Mike. We had a stripper pole in our living room, and I would spend many of my days playing Cardi B, pretending that I could even strip, to begin with. From there, I read what the show was about and fell in love with the idea of rediscovery: rediscovering lost masculinity, lost charm, lost confidence; it was the perfect melting pot of a show.”
Many of the contestants were encouraged by friends like Kevin Klass; I only found out about the show because of my roommate, Brennan!” Klass told us. “He is subscribed to newsletters that let him know when different auditions and gigs become available near San Diego. He recommended we both try out for fun, so we did! I like to step outside of my comfort zone whenever possible, and this gave me the opportunity to do just that. I’ve never “stripped” before, let alone even dance, and this gave me the chance to experience what it was like.”
Ross Harris also tried out at the suggestion of a friend, “I’m an army vet of ten years, and when I got out, I kind of lost my sense of this higher purpose to serve my country, and I felt the need to continue to serve in some way. I see my brothers and sisters who get out of the military or who are still in who struggle a lot with mental health, and it’s something I’ve really been able to get a good hold on recently in the last year or so and I just really wanted an outlet for me to be able to encourage other veterans to be able to get help if they need it and to be able to admit that they have struggles and demons they are facing,” Harris told us, “I have a friend who does marketing and branding, and I expressed my desire to perhaps create a podcast revolving around mental health, fitness and suicide awareness for veterans. She encouraged me to try out; she saw the link and thought that I would be perfect for it.”
Supportive friends were also a driving force for Nate Bryan, “My friends were the real catalyst behind me doing this show. They have so much faith in anything I set out to do and just proving to myself that I can do whatever I put my mind to.”
Jiovanni Teheran-Jones set out to accomplish something new, “Honestly I was looking for a way to hang my own shingle because I was tired of everything that I had accomplished was compared to my mom. I wanted something that I could say I went for and got on my own. MY biggest critic and my main obstacle were always myself. I thought this experience could help me love myself more.
If you’ve seen “Magic Mike” and “Magic Mike XXL,” you’ve seen the amazing choreography by Allison Faulk and Luke Broadlick. So how was the process for “Finding Magic Mike” versus the live shows and films? “Completely different, the largest reason because we’re working with non-professional dancers and the dancers in the show are professional dancers who have trained their entire lives. So then, we have men who don’t have any experience in we’re doing it on camera,” Faulk explained, “We were doing different kinds of dancer numbers in a truncated amount of time as well, so it was pretty different. But it was really fun; we had a really great time.
“We worked with Vince (Vincent Marini, executive producer) on the themes for all the numbers, and then we had our two associate choreographers, Ryan Carlson and Kyo Dominick, and we all got together, and we literally just have to use our best judgment. So we plan everything out, and we’ll teach it to them, and if it’s not going well...,” She laughs, and Broadlick elaborates, “We usually have like, A, B and C versions of a lot of stuff, so we were like let’s give them A. A is not working; let’s give them B. B is not working; let’s give them C, and that sets the tone for next week because now we know they were at C, and they have to get to B. There’s no progress if we don’t get to B.”
“If there were different groupings, we could group people in that way. If there was a solo, we could gauge it up or down depending on their ability level. And then sometimes we had to make a choice like if there are three out of four guys in a section who could do the Aversion, we would do the A version, and one of the guys is going to have to struggle a little bit,” Faulk explained.
“Finding Magic Mike” premiered on HBO Max December 16. Come back next week for part two of our interview! "Magic Mike Live" plays at SAHARA Las Vegas.