Fayetteville’s sand artist Joe Castillo on ‘Little Big Shots: Forever Young’ June 28

This was posted on Monday, June 26, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Five years ago, Joe Castillo finished in fifth place on NBC’s summer hit show “America’s Got Talent” creating cool stories using sand in real time.

Now he’s back on NBC, at age 69, showing off his talent as a “senior” for Steve Harvey’s “Little Big Shots” spin off focused on older folks with talent. (His episode airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday.) It’s called recycling – but not in a bad way. Harvey’s show has no competitive element. There’s no cash prize. It’s just getting TV exposure and goofing around with Harvey.

A year after his appearance on “America’s Got Talent,” Castillo moved to Fayetteville from Kentucky to be closer to a convenient airport, enabling him to travel easier. “I’m kind of trying to slow down,” he said, “but the demand is still so incredible. The biggest challenge is knowing when to say no.” He is on the road, he said, 150 to 160 days out of the year.

“I’m still having a great time doing it,” he said. “I absolutely do. Most of my performances are between 15 to 45 minutes. So I can handle that practically standing on my hands.”

He gets asked to appear at churches, corporate events, conferences, basketball arenas for half-time shows and product launches. He said his biggest audience to date was during the recent re-launch of a Sony PlayStation game “God of War” at a press conference earlier this month.

His appeal, he said, “is organic. So much of what’s happening is digital. I use my digits. I’m working with my hands. The great thing about sand is it’s very fluid. I can easily morph one image into the next.”

Castillo was born and raised in Mexico City, part of a very artistic family. “I was dragged to every art museum and art class possible,” he said. He finished art school and got into advertising for 20 years in Knoxville, eventually running his own ad agency.

By age 50, he realized the young folks he was hiring were doing the fun stuff. He tired of being an administrator. He sold his business, went to seminary, then pastored a church a with his wife in Richmond, Ky. He wanted to incorporate his art skills into his sermons, knowing people remember audio and visuals together better than just audio. He used magic markers, pastels, spray painting, clay and wood.

“After five years, I was running out of ideas,” he said. “So one day at the hardware store, I saw bags of sand. One of the bags had ripped over and sand was on the floor. As an artist, you can see images everywhere. I wondered if I could do something with that. So I came home with a bag of mulch and many more bags of sand.” He duct-taped a camcorder on a tripod and plugged it into a TV set and images started coming into his head.

His first story was about Easter over the music from the film “The Passion of the Christ.” “It’s a piece I perform more than any other,” he said. “It’s probably been seen by more than 1 million people live.” He even did the sand story in front of Pope Francis two years ago in Philadelphia.

For his latest TV appearance, Castillo got to spend time with Harvey and liked him. “He’s the real deal,” he said. “I saw him interact with the audience. He’s a guy that genuinely cares about the people on his show and cares about the audience. I have a great amount of respect for Steve.”

TV PREVIEW

“Little Big Shots: Forever Young,” 8 pm. Wednesdays, NBC


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