'AGT: The Champions' crowns sleight-of-hand artist Shin Lim: 'Such a fun run'

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From 50 competitors to 12 finalists, one champion took home the trophy for “America’s Got Talent: The Champions.”
USA TODAY

“America’s Got Talent: The Champions” brought together 50 competitors from past seasons and editions around the world.

But in the end, the two competitors vying for the title were of recent and familiar vintage: the 2017 “AGT” champ, ventriloquist Darci Lynne Farmer, and last summer’s winner, sleight-of-hand artist Shin Lim.

After the field of 12 finalists was winnowed during the last 20 minutes of Monday’s two-hour, noncompetition finale, Lim claimed the trophy and the $25,000 winner’s prize.

“It was awesome and such a fun run,” Lim tells USA TODAY of his victory, which was punctuated by a fall to the ground when host Terry Crews announced his name.

Crews, who had an up-close spot for Lim’s winning routine in last week’s show, marvels at his skill.

More: ‘AGT: Champions’ host Terry Crews on a finale combo: ‘It will blow people’s minds’

More: ‘AGT: The Champions’ recap: From Susan Boyle to Darci Lynne Farmer, who could win it all?

“He’s incredible,” he says. “I was trying to catch what he was doing. I was watching cards disappear in his bare hands and I was like, ‘What in the world?’ You know it’s a trick, but he was fooling me every time.” 

Although Lim is delighted with the result, the gracious champion is not certain the voters, a panel of superfans representing all 50 states, got it right.

“Darci Lynne deserved it. She can sing, she can do comedy, all with her mouth closed. That’s almost like me doing magic without my hands. … And she sang opera, for God’s sake,” he says. “Obviously, I’m thankful for (the superfans) voting me through and I couldn’t be happier.” 

Other top finishers announced late in Monday’s show, which featured numerous exhibitions and creative groupings, include: sand artist Kseniya Simonova of “Ukraine’s Got Talent” in third place; singer Cristina Ramos of the Spanish version in fourth; and, rounding out the top five, comedian and Season 12 finalist Preacher Lawson.   

Crews had some favorites. “I always have loved Preacher Lawson. I think he’s a superstar. I’m a big fan of Darci Lynne and my girl, Kseniya, (who I chose) with my golden buzzer,” he says. “They’ve proven they’re at the top of their game. There’s Susan Boyle, too, for goodness’ sakes.”

More: ‘America’s Got Talent’: Magician Shin Lim wins Season 13

More: Darci Lynne Farmer, 12, is the new champion of ‘America’s Got Talent’

Lim, 27, who’s had to stay mum about his victory since the fall taping, almost didn’t compete in the special edition of NBC’s top-rated summer show because it was taped right after Season 13.

“They said they had this show called ‘Champions.’ I had just won ‘America’s Got Talent.’ I was like, ‘No, I’m good. I’ll take a break. I want to relax,’ ” he says. “But then I thought, ‘This is kind of crazy to have all the winners compete against each other. It’s like “The Hunger Games” almost.’ I thought, ‘I’ll give it a shot. Who knows?’ ”

The downside was that he didn’t have time to develop new card tricks, but that didn’t hold him back. His performance in last week’s finals competition was a variation of The Dream Act, a mesmerizing routine viewers may remember from Season 13’s semifinals.

“I guess they really liked it, with the twist at the end when the (cards) appeared in (judge Howie Mandel’s) cup,” Lim says.

Lim, who was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and grew up in Massachusetts, started piano training at 9 and didn’t begin doing card tricks until he was 16, a late start for a future professional. He studied piano in college, but carpal tunnel syndrome eventually forced him to decide between the two pursuits. 

“I was practicing too much, music and then sleight of hand. All this rigorous training with my fingers was too much for my wrist to handle. The tendons got too inflamed,” says Lim, who takes a break after two hours of practice.

Lim gives much of the credit for his “AGT” success to his fiancee, Casey Thomas. “She helped me emotionally through the whole thing, because it’s a pretty stressful experience.”

Thomas, a dancer who was working with another magician when the couple began dating, provided technical expertise, too. “She helped me in so many different ways, like camera angles, helping me block my acts, coming up with ideas to improve the act. She has a lot of creative solutions,” Lim says.

The sleight-of-hand artist, a term he prefers over magician, had achieved professional success before “AGT,” winning an international card-trick title in 2015 and appearing twice on CW’s “Penn Teller: Fool Us.” But winning “AGT” brought a new level of visibility.

“Penn Teller” “got me notoriety among magicians and hardcore nerds that watch magic, but never the lay public. Winning (“AGT”) changed everything,” he says, leading to “way more gigs” and a semi-residency that begins in May at ventriloquist and Season 2 champ Terry Fator’s theater at The Mirage in Las Vegas.

He’ll also be touring, but will have to take a break for another important event in a busy year: his August wedding to Thomas in Hawaii.

The career and the relationship were proceeding well without “Champions,” but Lim wanted to see how he would do against such an esteemed field. “In a way, I did it to prove myself, to say that I belonged with these amazing 49 contestants.”

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  • Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) takes over as host of America's Got Talent: The Champions with returning judges Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum and Simon Cowell. Here are the 50 acts they will have to judge.1 of 51
  • Singer Susan Boyle2 of 51
  • Ventriloquist Darci Lynne3 of 51
  • Singer Paul Potts4 of 51
  • Magician Shin Lim5 of 51
  • Singer Sal Valentinetti6 of 51
  • Magician Piff The Magic Dragon7 of 51
  • Singer Jackie Evancho8 of 51
  • Musicians Sons of Serendip9 of 51
  • Mime Tape Face10 of 51
  • Comedian Vicki Barbolak11 of 51
  • Comedian Preacher Lawson12 of 51
  • Shadow theater group Attraction13 of 51
  • Comedian Taylor Williamson14 of 51
  • Singer Kechi Okwuchi15 of 51
  • Dog act Sara and Hero16 of 51
  • Dancers Justice Crew17 of 51
  • Mentalist Colin Cloud18 of 51
  • Jump ropers DDF Crew19 of 51
  • Musician DJ Arch Jnr20 of 51
  • Singer Prince Poppycock21 of 51
  • Singers The Texas Tenors22 of 51
  • Dancer Kenichi Ebina23 of 51
  • Singer Brian Justin Crum24 of 51
  • Comedian Drew Lynch25 of 51
  • Comedian Tom Cotter26 of 51
  • Rollerskaters Billy and Emily England27 of 51
  • Comedian Samuel J. Comroe28 of 51
  • Dance troupe Light Balance29 of 51
  • Illusionist Darcy Oake30 of 51
  • Stunt performers Ryan Stock and AmberLynn31 of 51
  • Singer Bianca Ryan32 of 51
  • Mentalists The Clairvoyants33 of 51
  • Sword swallower Alex Magala34 of 51
  • Magician Jon Dorenbos35 of 51
  • Singer Angelica Hale36 of 51
  • Escape artist Cosentino37 of 51
  • Pianist Tokio Myers38 of 51
  • Aerialist Sofie Dossi39 of 51
  • Acrobat Uzeyer Novruzov40 of 51
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  • Ventriloquist Paul Zerdin43 of 51
  • Regurgitator The Professional Regurgitator44 of 51
  • Artist Kseniya Simonova45 of 51
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