Amid the speculation as to why Britney Spears crashed and burned at the Video Music Awards in September, one explanation stuck out: Her performance lacked magic. That's what she gets for not including Criss Angel, the 39-year-old goth illusionist who was supposed to have been the creative force behind her act and, more to the point, was widely rumored in the celeblogs to be sleeping with her (both Angel and Spears deny this). A month earlier, Cameron Diaz had been named as a primary cause in Angel's divorce papers and freely admitted to having dated Angel (though she claimed he and his wife were already separated). So what does it mean that this guywho just signed a $200 million contract with the Luxor and Cirque de Soleil and who rolled up to the premiere of the third season of his A&E series Mindfreak in a black Lamborghiniseems to be plowing through Justin Timberlake's little black book? After decades as pop culture's most reliable punch line (hello, G.O.B. Bluth), magiciansyes, you read that righthave risen like blow-dried phoenixes to become . . . cool. Remember the wiry kid in the corner of the lunchroom, begging passersby to pick a card, any card, only to get wedgied for his efforts? Well, he's finger-banging the cheerleader.
Even magicians see it that way. "Magic is the Special Olympics of entertainment," says Penn Jillette, the taller, more verbal half of Penn & Teller. "I mean, Criss Angel is good-looking, he's smart, he's funny. Yet when he goes out with a piece of ass, it's a surprise." It sure is. But when rock and roll's most accomplished Lothario is a nice Jewish boy named Adam Levine and Hollywood is populated by a bevy of male Bugaboo pushers, why should it be? Hell, the most beloved character of this generation is a teenage wizard. So why is it so shocking that this insanely wealthy quasi-daredevil has the ability to conjure up A-list tail out of thin air? The man can make himself levitate. Have you ever managed to do that?
That particular talent is one that a dating guru and part-time prestidigitator named Mystery likes to show off in bars. And though Mystery doesn't teach students the real dark arts in his $3,000-a-pop pick-up seminars, he sees Houdini's medium as the ultimate aphrodisiac. "I've had girls tell me after a trick, 'Oh, my god, I love you,'" Mystery says. "That's the reality some magicians have the skill to evoke." Practicing this "attraction magic," as he calls it, has helped him gain a cultlike following via Neil Strauss' book The Game and VH1's The Pick-Up Artist. "David Copperfield dated a supermodel, I've dated a supermodel," he says. "Birthday-party magic is cheesy, yes, but women are fascinated by anything having to do with the unknown."