Oz Pearlman: An engineer’s magic moment

Oz Pearlman is a professional magician and mentalist. His performances have made him one of the most well-known in this field.

Oz Pearlman Enlarge

When Oz Pearlman gets up in the morning, he prepares for a 20 mile run. He’s got to be quick about it though, because that afternoon a party full of corporate execs will be waiting for him to come read their minds. What’s he planning to find in there? It could be many things – a celebrity’s name, a childhood vacation destination, or even a word picked at random from a newspaper.

Whatever it is, Oz will find it – and do it all again the next day.

Oz Pearlman (BSE EE ’03) is a professional magician and mentalist. His performances have made him one of the most well-known in this field, with shows on six continents and clients that would leave an A-list celebrity starstruck. And now, in his latest endeavor, the engineer-turned-wizard has taken on America’s Got Talent. So far his shot at the mainstream is still going strong – on August 25, Oz will perform for his biggest audience yet in the competition’s quarterfinals.

A Magical Journey

Born in Israel, Oz’s family moved stateside when he was 3. They eventually settled in Michigan, and it was in a Farmington Hills school that he discovered his first big talent – math. Oz achieved near-perfect scores on high-school level aptitude tests at the age of 12. This skill would lead to his pursuit of engineering a few years later.

“When I went to college I really didn’t know what my passion was,” he says. “I kind of just fell into my strong suit.”

But the magical flair was there long before college. It was at age 13, on board a bar mitzvah cruise to Bermuda, that Oz was blown away by a magician’s performance. After participating in just one trick, he was captivated – and hooked.

“After that trip I bought every magic book and video I could find,” he says. “You wouldn’t see me without a deck of cards in hand from age 13 to 18.”

Oz enrolled at U-M at the age of 16, choosing electrical engineering because of the variety it offered. By that time his hobby had made its way to the stage. From kids shows to private parties and corporate events, he even landed a position at the Mongolian Barbecue – and for a time enjoyed returning and seeing his cards on the ceiling, remants of his former show.

This local success didn’t just give Oz something to do on weekends – he used the performances to help pay for college. The year he graduated, he started making instructional videos as part of a deal with Penguin Magic. His how-to for beginners DVD’s became some of the best selling of all time.

But Oz doesn’t just put on magic shows. He is a mentalist – a self-described “magician of the mind.”  It combines a multitude of techniques including the art of suggestion, subliminal messaging, body language reading, statistical analysis and neurolinguistic programming. Every show is different because every person is different, adding to the element of excitement and surprise at Oz’s performances. As Oz describes it, he is reverse engineering the human brain.

“A lot of the skill set is very similar to engineering,” he explains. “It’s about defining a problem and solving it. And most of the problems involve getting inside of people’s heads and asking ‘how do they think?’”

The show went on after college. Taking a job as a project manager on Wall Street, Oz found himself performing for his staff and coworkers, partly to keep everyone happy. While he lived in Manhattan, he had the opportunity to network with major players in the magic world, and continued his corporate shows and private parties.

“Before I knew it I was working a day job from 8 to 6 and performing every night,” he says. “I decided to make the switch.”

And this past year, the cards were finally right to audition for America’s Got Talent, and a bigger audience than ever is being wowed by his performances.

Using some of his standby tricks, Oz has managed twice now to leave the celebrity judges speechless and the audience on its feet. He plans to make things even more dramatic going forward.

“They like to build up the drama on this show, but a lot of it’s real,” he says. “What I’m about to do is not surefire. It’s live, so that adds an element of danger.”

But if it works? America may soon have a new favorite magician.

“It’s been by far the biggest exposure of my career,” Oz says. “Even though I’ve been on a lot of national TV and radio, people really get behind you in a continuous contest like this.”

That personal connection has already paid off – YouTube videos of his aired performances have gone viral, and online interest in Oz’s past performances spiked.

As a student, the young magician did not foresee a professional career emerging from his restaurant shows and card tricks. But as the man himself will tell you, your degree can take you amazing places.

“If I had never gone to Michigan I would never be where I am today,” said Oz. “That degree says that you know how to multitask, you know how to focus, you know how to problem solve, you know how to interact. I still get together with the friends I made at Michigan – and they are all successful in their own careers. That’s the real world.”


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From Magic Shows to Marathons

As if excelling in performance weren’t enough, Oz Pearlman has made a name for himself in the running world.

In 2009, he ran the fastest 50-mile race in the world for that year. He’s won the New Jersey Marathon four times, ranks within the top 30 fastest Americans for 50-mile races, and is currently pursuing a goal of shaving another 15 minutes off his record 50-mile time of 5 hours and 25 minutes.

Within two years of starting his training, Oz had expanded his competitive scope to triathlons. In short order, he qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Now he participates in grueling ultramarathons, races exceeding 130 miles in extreme conditions.

And of course, never one to skimp on the big finish, Oz has made his trademark move a grand unveiling of two complete decks of cars just as he crosses the finish line.


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Oz poses with former president Bill Clinton following a performance.
Pearlman DVD cover Enlarge
Oz Pearlman's DVD, Born to Perform Card Magic, is considered one of the most influential card trick DVDs of the decade. Oz became connected with the company who produced the DVD, Penguin Magic, through two Michigan alums.
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