Volume 79, Number 7 | July 22 - 28, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Sky Claudette Soto does her patented back bend with fire fingers, while Vlad Marco holds flaming skewers right over her stomach. Their act has always gone off without incident — until a recent performance on “America’s Got Talent.”

Fire-act couple are incensed at Hasselhoff and NBC

By Lincoln Anderson

A former leading East Village squatter and his common-law wife are hot under the collar at “America’s Got Talent,” charging the reality show’s bungling techies created a dangerous situation that led to the woman’s hair catching on fire.

Vlad Marco and Sky Claudette Soto had performed their fire act 200 times prior to going on the NBC show. Typically, Vlad wields his blazing fire umbrella and fire swords, while Sky does back bends with her fire fans, or sometimes fire fingers. 

They rehearse religiously in their Williamsburg loft. They’ve performed on Halloween at Webster Hall, and more recently on the roof at Grand Space in Brooklyn — always without a hitch. 

But on “America’s Got Talent,” something went wrong, seriously wrong.

The segment was taped several months ago and recently aired.

Things immediately got off to a bad start, when the couple were told they couldn’t leave the stuffy green room at the Hammerstein Ballroom on W. 34th St. They were forced to wait in an uncomfortable “holding area” with 150 other performers for 13 hours, until they went onstage. 

“They wouldn’t let us bring our fire safety person in,” Marco said. “They never offered us water.”

Marco said the stage setup looked “questionable.” Techies had put four boards down where Soto was to perform, and when Marco asked if they were fire retardant was told that they were. 

“But it looked glossy, like laminate,” he recalled. A plastic covering may have been left on one of the boards, Marco suspects.

As a result, Marco said, when Soto did her trademark back bend, her right fire fan touched down and ignited the plastic, which caused the hair on the right side of her head to catch fire. Eventually, men with fire extinguishers rushed out, but, by that time, Soto’s hair was already out, as was Marco’s umbrella.

“It singed her hair — her reflexes are so quick, she was able to reach around and put it out,” Marco noted. “Sky’s trained in ballet and tap since she was 3. You can’t say this girl’s a novice.”

As they exited the stage, Soto angrily blasted Sharon Osbourne, one of the celebrity judges, screaming, “You can’t keep a performance artist downstairs for 13 hours! How dare you do this to me?” Yet, her rant was later removed from the segment that aired.

Marco was particularly incensed at a quip another of the judges, David Hasselhoff, made after the incident: “ ‘Well, that was a fiery end of the night.’ That’s what the dope said,” fumed Marco. “And then they’re like laughing, ‘Ha! Ha! She burned her hair.’ That’s bad taste.

“They put us on last, which makes me think this might have been intentional,” he added.

Adding insult to injury, a video of the fire-act fiasco popped up on AOL the next week, reaching as high as No. 7. Marco said boos were even dubbed into this video, though no one had booed at the actual taping.

“The contract says, ‘We can portray you in a false manner — like dubbing in boos,’” he noted. “We’ve never been booed. We did a show before 4,000 people at Webster Hall — they never booed. ... We did fire at Heidi Klum’s Halloween party four years ago. ... This is the sleazier side of reality TV.”

Maybe, Marco figured, it was all about one thing: “They wanted a ‘wow factor’ — because their ratings are plummeting.”

The Villager was unable to reach representatives from “America’s Got Talent” or NBC for comment.

Back in his squatting days, Marco “opened up” and/or “started” a lot of bricked-up abandoned buildings in the East Village, including See Skwat, Serenity and Sunshine.

“Pretty much every squat I ever opened is still going and standing,” he said.

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