Last week, Howie Mandel appeared on The Today Show to discuss the new season of America’s Got Talent, on which he serves as a judge. When asked about his favorite acts, Mandel said he was looking for things that he’d never seen before:
“We have this guy Juan,” Mandel told hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. “I can’t say what he does, because I don’t know what he does. It’s not comedy, it’s not singing, it’s not dancing. It’s not even a danger act. I don’t know what it is, but I like it!" (Fast forward to 3:12 in the video below to hear Mandel's full comments.)
Juan—“the Juan and only,” as Mandel put it—is better known to Houstonians as the Montrose Rollerblade Dancer, the mustachioed, headphones-wearing gentleman who for the past few years has spent several hours a day skating by himself on Montrose Boulevard and Allen Parkway, becoming something of a local celebrity in the process. Drivers slow down to yell encouragement or take photos; a video of his dance routine has been viewed almost 800,000 times on YouTube. Last September, Juan Carlos (he prefers not to give his last name) gave his first print interview to Houstonia Executive Editor Catherine Matusow. The resulting profile became one of our most-read stories, and, at some point, came to the attention of a producer at AGT, who called Matusow requesting Juan Carlos’s phone number.
Shortly thereafter, Juan Carlos received a call from the show inviting him to audition. “At first I didn’t want to do it, but then they kept calling, so I said ‘Okay, let’s try,’” he told me in a recent phone interview. With the help of a psychologist friend, Juan Carlos set to work designing a costume out of a Catwoman costume and two women’s mini-skirts. This improbable but utterly fabulous outfit can be seen on Juan Carlos’s Facebook fan page—yes, he has a fan page. As for his dance routine, Juan Carlos decided to improvise, just as he does on Montrose Boulevard. “It’s basically whatever comes to me in the moment of the music,” he explained. “The music just makes me move.”
Last month, NBC flew Juan Carlos to New York and put him up at the Manhattan Hotel in Times Square. But any notion that the Montrose Rollerblader could go incognito in the Big Apple, far from his Montrose fan base, vanished as soon as the Colombian-born part-time hairdresser stepped (or rather rolled) onto the street, where he said he was mobbed by adoring crowds asking to take photos with him. A few people even addressed him by name, saying they recognized him from his YouTube videos. Because of all the attention, it took two hours for Juan Carlos to travel the three blocks from his hotel to where he was supposed to get picked up for the audition. His Facebook page features a video of him dancing outside his hotel room, the passersby obviously nonplussed.
As for the audition itself, well, Juan Carlos is contractually prohibited from saying too much about it, including whether he advanced to the next round. (All of the early auditions are pre-taped.) He told me that the judges—who, in addition to Mandell, include Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Nick Cannon, and Mel B—urged him to regrow his mustache, and to include more of the poses he exhibits in his videos. “They said, we love your poses, you need to bring them back big-time. I said, ‘Oh, I’ve got plenty of those.’” Juan Carlos hasn't been told which AGT episode will include his audition—he didn't appear on last week's season premiere—but is hoping it's tonight.
Juan Carlos said he wasn't nervous about appearing on national television. The way he sees it, he’s just bringing the same joy to the country that he’s been bringing Houston motorists for years. “I’m used to people on Allen Parkway, and I see how people love it and how it makes them happy. So I have a lot of confidence on me…I’m ready for my close-up!”
[Editor's note: the spelling of Howie Mandel's name has been corrected. H/t commenter Sihaya]