December 21, 2006
Uri Geller bends self into Israel ‘reality TV’ stardom
Israel is no stranger to reality TV. Knockoffs -- or shall we say adaptations -- of popular American TV talent shows, like "American Idol" and "The Apprentice," have become hits. But recently, Israel has developed its own inimitable, highly successful talent contest in which Uri Geller, the famous, controversial, Israeli paranormalist, is seeking an heir.
It's only natural, Geller said in a telephone interview, that Israel pioneer a contest for mentalists (read "mind readers").
"I think this field -- call it mentalism, parapsychology, real magic, kabbalah, Jewish mysticism -- all started here 5,000 years ago, when the Jews left Egypt," he said. "It's all riddled in the kabbalah -- the mystical letters, the powers, the energy of the universe. People are believers here.... Our race is steeped in mystery attached by a spiritual thread to universe."
Geller cited Houdini, David Copperfield, David Blaine and even Einstein as examples of Jews who have learned to understand and manipulate natural phenomena.
"The Successor" debuted Nov. 18 to record-breaking ratings. Almost one-third of Israel tuned in to watch Geller judge the nine contestants as they dazzled audiences with their mind-reading, mind-bending powers. The show has attracted international attention and, according to Geller, has sparked interest from producers abroad who are considering adopting its format.
Geller is most famous for bending spoons "with his mind," a feat that commonly figures into legends, jokes and parodies about him, although the contestants perform more sophisticated stunts on the show. The acts use three local celebrities (always including a pretty actress or model) to perform their sleights of "mind": drawing images, determining numbers and phrases and even playing songs the celebrities secretly choose in their mind.
The show also marks Geller's romanticized and widely publicized comeback to Israel. He left in 1972 to pursue a worldwide, profitable -- and at times notorious -- career as a paranormalist, entertainer and author. Geller immediately signed on to "The Successor" when Keshet Productions approached him with the idea. At the time, he was visiting Israel on a mission for the International Friends of Magen David Adom, which he chairs.
For the next few weeks, he'll shuttle between Israel and his mansion outside of London for the weekly live tapings, although he recently bought an apartment in Jaffa so he can spend more time in Israel, even when the show is over.
"Spiritually, mentally, psychically, I'm attached to Israel," Geller said. "I was born here. I'm a sabra. I also have a dream to make the performers become as famous as I am."
The winner will headline at a tourist hotspot in Macao, China, and receive a secret prize, plus the chance to boast of being Geller's heir.
"I think they are fantastic, professional entertainers," Geller said of his potential heirs. "They are riveting, mesmerizing. Each of them has a personality"
Aside from talent, Geller is also looking for charisma, charm, personality and stage presence. Each week a contestant is voted off by viewers at home, but the final choice will be up to Geller.
At the start of each show, Geller demonstrates that he hasn't lost his own touch. He successfully "mind-read" the image an El Al pilot drew in his cockpit prior to landing (it was a fish) and located a expensive diamond necklace hidden in one of five Chanukah candle boxes.
However, Geller, whose patriotism has been triggered anew by his return, won't be satisfied with passing just one torch (or shall we say a telekinetically altered spoon): "I would love to take them to Las Vegas as a team and create some kind of a Uri Geller show. I feel like it's about time that more Israelis become well known and famous around the world, because how many do you know?"