Alumnus Reads Minds

By Sherrie Negrea, November 1, 2016

Alumnus Reads Minds

Eric Dittelman ’07 stood on the stage of the State Theatre of Ithaca with a blindfold in one hand, a roll of duct tape in the other, and two half-dollar coins in his pocket. After applying all of them to shield his eyes, he proceeded to stun the crowd by identifying three pictures members of the audience had drawn earlier in the show.

As a volunteer held the sketches above his head, Dittelman correctly described them: a sailboat, a sun, and a bee buzzing near a flower.

“Some of you may wonder how it's done,” Dittelman said during his hour-long show on Oct. 30, part of Ithaca's Wizarding Weekend. “What I do is not supernatural; it's not psychic. It's a combination of magic and psychology to figure out what you're thinking.”

Dittelman, who learned his craft from some of the top mind readers in the world, became an instant celebrity in 2012 when he performed in the semifinal round on Season 7 of NBC's “America's Got Talent.” In that episode, he correctly predicted the colors judge Howard Stern chose to draw on a portrait of his face.

In Ithaca, Dittelman repeated that stunt with a member of the audience, Eric Ahl, who along with his wife was visiting their daughter Ashley, a senior at Ithaca College. After Ahl colored in a portrait of Dittelman with a set of five magic markers, Dittelman pulled a black cloth off an identical drawing on an easel that was filled in with the exact same colors, from the orange hair down to the red shoes.

“I'm quite shocked,” Ahl said after the show, before waiting in line for Dittelman's autograph. “How he got that with me just putting random colors — it was unbelievable.”

Despite his passion for magic as a child, Dittelman decided he wanted to become a chorus teacher and came to Ithaca College to study voice and music education. On campus, he performed card tricks for friends and joined the IC Comedy Club, where he honed his skills as a stand-up comedian.

While he eventually grew more interested in magic than music, Dittelman found that his music degree helped train him as an entertainer. “Music is a performance-based craft,” he said. “While you're performing, you get to learn things like stage presence and how to connect to an audience. So those types of skills transfer over into the entertainment field.”

Dittelman tried following the traditional path for a music major, teaching chorus in elementary and middle school in the Syracuse suburbs while performing magic gigs at night.

“I was really kind of burning the candle at both ends,” he said. "And then I decided I just really wanted to follow the entertainment path and not the music path.”

By the time he moved back home to Westboro, Mass., Dittelman had switched his focus from magic to mind reading and mentalism, a performing art that uses memory feats and other stunts.

“It combines a little bit more of the psychology of it and understanding how people think,” he said. “I was naturally drawn to that because I'm just a person who wants to figure out how things are done and how people kind of work.”

After appearing on “America's Got Talent,” Dittelman was invited as a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2013 and performed two of his trademark acts: while wearing a blindfold and the half-dollars duct taped over his eyes, he correctly identified a picture she had drawn (a car) and the name of one of her first pets (Happy).

Since then, Dittelman, who now lives in New York, has given hundreds of performances at college campuses, casinos, theaters, corporate events, and on cruise ships across the country. His favorite part of performing, in any venue, is seeing the audience's reaction.

“What's fun for me is when you can give a moment of wonder to someone,” he says. “When you're little, everything is so amazing and wonderful — you're really living in that moment of wonder. We kind of lose that when we get older, and so I like to give that wonder back a bit.”