‘He’s a rock star’: QU student amazes crowd with his Vegas-bound magic tricks

Xavier Cullen, Opinion Editor

Quinnipiac senior TJ Salta is taking his magical talents to Las Vegas, Nevada, with the famed Cirque du Soleil. (Connor Lawless)

Most businesses need an owner, CEO and a full staff of workers. TJ Salta just needs a deck of cards.

Salta, a senior 3+1 entrepreneurship major at Quinnipiac University, has been making magic since he was in high school. Inspired by Shin Lim and David Blaine, Salta said he likes the “seductive” side of magic, especially close-up and on-the- street performances.

His style was why the Rocky Top Student Center was packed with family, students, professors and fans coming to see Salta perform April 1, before he took his talents to Cirque du Soleil’s Mad Apple show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Salta started his act by handing out slips of paper to dozens of audience members, telling them to write something they would bring to a party. After collecting them in a box, he had two random people each select a slip. The first slip chosen said “condom” to the dismay of Salta and laughs of the crowd. The second was a much more family-friendly word: “piñata.”

Salta then picked up a large gift bag, pulled out a piñata and shocked the crowd.

After putting both to the side, Salta riffled through a deck of cards and had one viewer tell him when to stop. Revealing the chosen queen of spades to only the audience, Salta put it back into the deck. As he attempted to find the card, he turned the entire deck’s back from blue to red — except for the queen of spades.

The audience gasped and cheered, but nobody was prepared for when Salta turned every card blank with just the wave of his hand. Every trick looked so effortless for Salta, but that didn’t come easy.

“When I started, it could be six to eight hours a day (of practice),” Salta said. “Now, because it’s in my blood and I don’t have a choice to do it, it’s more the creative side … Especially with the internet out there, how can I create tricks that no one can find online?”

But the best was yet to come in the show, as Salta had one guest draw an “X” on the queen of spades, and seemingly burned it to thin air. The magician went to the llama-shaped piñata, picked up a bat and handed it to a selected guest, Andrew Constantouris, a business administration graduate student.

Connor Lawless

With one homerun swing, Constantouris decapitated the piñata, almost hitting a front-row spectator with the headless body. “I was hitting that thing as hard as I can,” Constantouris said.

“But I knew something was in there.”

As Salta looked down at the candy guts of the piñata, one thing shined bright among the lollipops. It was a condom, still in its wrapping, just like the slip from before said. The crowd went bananas. But when Constantouris ripped open the wrapper to reveal the marked queen of spades, the ensuing cheers could probably be heard from the Mount Carmel campus.

“It was just mind-blowing,” Constantouris said. “I’m really happy for (Salta). Just the environment here, everyone’s supporting him. It’s so cool that one of our Quinnipiac students gets a chance to do this … He’s a rock star.”

After a couple more tricks, Salta walked into On The Rocks with a deck of cards to perform up-close magic with bar patrons. That day was the amalgamation of years of practice, and nobody was more proud of Salta’s progress than his parents, Liza and Tom Salta, who saw him perform.

“We both have an overwhelming sense of pride, of course,” Tom Salta said. “It’s surreal in a way … Now we’re standing here and our son is up there. Not only is he graduating, but he’s going to Vegas, and all these people are here to see him.”

The pressure of the spotlight and schoolwork has been a lot for TJ Salta, but he said his parents, peers and professors have made his dreams easier to obtain.

“It’s a lot to juggle,” TJ Salta said. “As you saw the support, the network. Just seeing people in this program and in this school having that same mindset of doing something they love, that’s kind of pushed me and given me that hope that I’m not alone.“

As TJ Salta leaves campus to join the rest of the Cirque du Soleil crew, he’ll be studying remotely. He lived just 40 miles away from home while at Quinnipiac, so his parents are naturally worried about how he’ll handle being 2,600 miles west.

“As a mom, I have some concerns with the whole atmosphere (in Las Vegas), and there’s a lot of things out of his control,” Liza Salta said. “But I know he’s with a good company … and he’s got one of the top managers out there, so I feel comfortable with that. But, you know-”

“But we’re still parents, right?” Tom Salta said.

However,TJ Salta said he’s ready for whatever Vegas throws at him, even if it’ll be a bumpy road.

“Obviously, I’m (an independent) college student,” TJ Salta said. “But I’m dependent financially, and I have a home at home with my parents. So dropping all of that at once, it’s not really something I’m being eased into. I’m being thrown in the water. It’s exciting, but it’s very overwhelming. I’m just ready for the ride.”