Christopher Carter says he knows what is in your head. The Sleepy Hollow mentalist says he can visualize the random playing card you just picked, all 10 digits of your grandma's phone number or even your old locker combination from eighth grade.
But it took Carter a few years to figure out what was inside his head.
"There's a performer inside of me wanting to get out. He just didn't in high school. I was a nerd," Carter says, remembering his childhood in Springfield. "I was more of the picked-on nerdish. In those days, I was on the fat side."
By age 10, he had learned a variety of magic tricks. But he didn't really want to be a magician. During high school, Carter became the subject for a hypnotist's show, his body rigidly suspended between two chairs.
"I have got to learn to do this," he remembers thinking.
He went from a 17-year-old armed with hypnosis books from the library to an internship with a hypnotist who helped people quit smoking and the like.
"But I really never had an interest in opening an office. My goal was always to be an entertainer," says Carter, who adds that he lost 50 pounds and got in shape before he graduated from high school just to help his stage presence.
At Illinois Wesleyan, where he majored in theater and business, Carter maintained an interest in psychology and performed hypnosis shows at county fairs and festivals. But it didn't grab him.
"I was growing bored," he says. "Once you learn that you can make a person cluck like a chicken, you lose interest."
The more traditional theater career wasn't an option, although Carter did improve as an actor during his four years of college. "I went from 'hopeless' to 'not bad,'" Carter says.
Halfway along the path to a doctoral degree at the University of Michigan and a probable career as a theater professor, Carter figured out how he could blend his interests into a new performance. Parents Robert and Sarah Carter encouraged his quest to perform but only to a point.
"They were supportive, but they thought it would be a hobby," Carter says.
He came to Chicago, where his wife, MaryAnn, got a job in a bank. He entertained at bar and bat mitzvahs, birthday parties and corporate events. and started incorporating more of the intuitive nature he developed as an 8-year-old spending summers with relatives in Arkansas.
"My great Uncle Bud would play poker, and he was terrible at bluffing," remembers Carter, who could tell when his uncle was lying. Between his natural ability and the techniques he studied, Carter honed that talent into a tool he uses to manipulate and read his audience members.
"It's extremely retro," Carter says of the mind-reading aspects he picked up from performers such as "Newmann the Great," whose early 20th century show flier is part of Carter's extensive poster collection. "It goes back to the late 1800s or maybe even earlier. I just added another layer and another layer and another layer."
During his recent show at the Fountain Park Chautauqua in Remington, Ind., audience members duct-tape silver dollars over Carter's eyes. While wearing a blindfold, the mentalist identifies objects gathered from the audience and then reveals the names, important numbers and odd facts audience members had written on cards.
"There's absolutely no technology involved," Carter tells skeptics who suspect he uses some sort of high-tech gadgetry in his act.
While Carter has appeared on TV shows and won numerous awards, including Campus Activities Magazine's Entertainer of the Year, he also teaches incoming freshmen, recent college graduates or people in the corporate world about how his intuitive skills can be used in the real world.
"I'm an entertainer and a lecturer," he says, noting he's visited more than 2,500 colleges but is cutting back a bit from the days when he was on the road 200 days a year doing shows. He now sports a corporate christophercartermentalist.com website in addition to his entertainment mindcramp.com site, where his goal is to "mess with your mind."
Carter, 46, lived for a bit in Des Plaines but says he and his wife bought a home in Sleepy Hollow for the privacy, rural flavor and to be close to his wife's horses at Indian Hills Stables in Gilberts. She is a competitive carriage racer who participates in combined driving events for horses that test endurance, speed and precision. As a mentalist and a carriage racer, they probably qualify as the most-interesting couple at any suburban cocktail party.
People often ask why Carter can't use his skills to predict winning lottery numbers or make a fortune playing poker.
"I have to set them up in the right way," Carter says, explaining how he works with his audience to manipulate things to his advantage. "In the real world, when people are bluffing, it's muddier."