News Column

'Talent' semifinalist back at ISU, readies for next performance

August 23, 2014

By Lenore Sobota, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

Aug. 23--NORMAL -- Christian Stoinev's circus roots go back five generations, but the Illinois State University graduate has returned to his campus roots as he prepares for the semifinals of NBC's "America's Got Talent."

"I have a gym here that feels like home," Stoinev said Friday afternoon, as he took a break during practice at the Horton Field House gym used by ISU's Gamma Phi Circus.

Gamma Phi is the oldest collegiate circus in the country, marking its 85th anniversary this year.

"I imagine because of Christian, we'll have more interest (in the circus) this year," said Marcus Alouan, circus director since 2010. The circus has its first of three open houses for prospective members from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at Horton's south gym.

As this year's returning Gamma Phi members juggled, walked on stilts and swung on the trapeze, Stoinev worked on the hand balancing routines that have enabled him to advance on the popular NBC program. No time has been announced for his next live appearance on the show.

His parents and younger brother live in Normal and Stoinev, a 2013 ISU graduate, said he feels comfortable here.

Still, it's hard to relax.

"Right now, everything is moving so fast and there's pressure," he said.

Being in a familiar place and spending time with friends helps get his mind off the pressure, at least for a little while, he said.

Nevertheless, he continues to practice and work out about four hours a day, and think about how to top his previous performance.

"This could be the biggest thing happening in my career," Stoinev said. "I don't want to let it slip."

Alouan said he is "thrilled" for Stoinev, adding, "It couldn't happen to a nicer guy."

Earlier this week, Stoinev visited students at Metcalf School, many of whom he coached in the junior circus.

Ivan Stoinev, Christian's father, is proud of his son and how well he's done so far. Whether he can advance further amid the singers, dancers, musicians and others remaining doesn't seem to bother either father or son.

"There's a lot of talent out there," Ivan Stoinev said. "He's unique. We're happy where he is right now."

The elder Stoinev is assistant director of Gamma Phi, having settled in Normal with his wife, Maritza Atayde, after decades of traveling with circuses. They wanted their youngest son, Christopher, who had been home schooled on the road, to go to high school here and follow in his brother's footsteps by getting a college degree.

"It's always better to have two options," Ivan Stoinev said.

For now, Christian Stoinev's chosen option is to see how far he can go on "America's Got Talent" and just take things "one day at a time."


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Source: Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL)

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