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Inside Utah trapeze act Duo Transcend’s big run on ‘AGT: The Champions’

The Utah trapeze act Duo Transcend is the runner-up for season two of “AGT: The Champions.”
Trae Patton, NBC

SALT LAKE CITY — Before “AGT: The Champions,” Utah’s Duo Transcend competed on season 13 of “AGT” in 2018, becoming the first trapeze artists in the show’s history to reach the top 10.

They did even better on “Champions.”

It’s been a few days since the world watched Duo Transcend become the runner-up on season 2 of “AGT: Champions.” But it’s been a secret Mary and Tyce Nielsen have kept to themselves for months, since the season was filmed in October.

In an exclusive interview with the Deseret News, the Nielsens relived their run on “Champions” — everything from getting saved from elimination to their emotional final performance that had both trapeze artists blindfolded the entire time.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The Utah trapeze act Duo Transcend (center) is the runner-up for season two of “AGT: The Champions.”
Trae Patton, NBC

Deseret News: In the finals performance, both of you were blindfolded the entire time. Who’s idea was that?

Tyce Nielsen: We’ve kind of wanted to incorporate that for a while now. We honestly did not expect that we would make it to the finals because we knew that going on “Champions,” the competition was even tougher than it was during our regular season. We just really didn’t expect it to happen. And so when it did, we knew that that would probably be the only thing that could up the danger of our game. So we decided to do it.

DN: Mary, during that finals routine, there’s a moment where it looks like you’re kind of elbowing Tyce. What was that about?

Mary Nielsen: That was actually just me cuing him to roll over on the bar, and because I couldn’t see him, I elbowed him pretty hard.

DN: You guys were visibly emotional after that performance. Could you talk a little bit about what was going through your head?

MN: We were just so nervous because we didn’t do a huge production and it was just the two of us. We thought that we couldn’t even match up to some of the other acts that were performing that night, and we didn’t want our act to be a letdown. So when it actually went over pretty well, we were just so happy. That’s why we were emotional.

And in our practice, our tech rehearsal, I actually fell during a trick. So we were worried that that was going to happen again. But luckily it didn’t.

DN: Tyce, in an earlier interview we did, you said, “We wanted to show improvement. We wanted to make sure that we showed them that we were stronger, that we were better.” Do you feel like you guys accomplished that on “Champions”?

TN: Yeah I think so. I felt that we came back the champions, and I felt like both Mary and I, we were in better shape than we were in season 13. Physically we were in better shape. I think we had developed a more solid routine for trapeze. Our heads were in a better place as well because we’d already gone through it once before, so going through it again, I think we had more confidence in ourselves.

The Utah trapeze act Duo Transcend is the runner-up for season two of “AGT: The Champions.”
Trae Patton, NBC

Overall, I think we were better performers on “Champions” than we were in season 13. Season 13 we did not expect to be able to make it as far as we did. There’s never been an aerial act that’s gone to the finals, so we just thought it wasn’t possible.

Coming back to “Champions,” I felt we were more prepared. We were just as nervous — we’re always nervous. The nerves never leave. We could do a skill 1,000 times and never fall and when we go to do it in the show we’re just as nervous as we were when we started learning it. It’s just how it is, and I think it’s something that keeps us safe. It keeps us smart.

DN: Being the runner-up, does that change things going forward for you two?

TN: For sure. We’ve had so many people reach out to us — people that hire for company parties, people that hire for shows in Vegas. A lot of stuff. We had “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” reach out to us. We didn’t know this, but I guess Ellen and her wife, Portia, they’re actually big fans of “AGT.”

“AGT” reached out to her and they said, “Hey, we want to give you one of the ‘AGT Champions’ acts for your show,” and she specifically asked for us. We were able to meet Ellen and talk with her. She’s just a sweetheart, just as sweet as you think she is. So we’ve had some great opportunities.

DN: You’re doing the halftime show for the Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Lakers game on March 16 at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. Will that performance take on a different meaning in light of Kobe Bryant’s death?

TN: Kobe was a huge inspiration for me. I grew up being a basketball player, and there was nobody cooler than him. It’s a sad deal, and we feel honored to be able to do the game.

Duo Transcend’s Tyce Nielsen and Mary Wolfe-Nielsen of Salt Lake City perform during the season 13 “America’s Got Talent” auditions.
The Utah trapeze act Duo Transcend is the runner-up for season two of “AGT: The Champions.”
Trae Patton, NBC

DN: Do you get nervous watching your routines on TV?

TN: We do a little bit because all the video editing, the way “AGT” edits everything, it’s out of our control. We were very happy with how all of our routines went, so we knew the routine was going to be OK. We just didn’t know how they were going to edit everything.

DN: Talking about the editing, on the final performance, when you guys were both blindfolded the entire time, “AGT” put that commercial break right before Mary’s big drop.

TN: They do a good job with keeping everybody in suspense.

DN: How much practice did that take for you to both be blindfolded in a routine?

TN: We’ve actually been working on blindfolded trapeze for six years, but we’ve never felt comfortable doing it until we needed to. My eyesight’s been failing my whole life, and so I’ve known my whole life eventually I would lose my sight. When we started training trapeze, one of the things Mary and I talked about was, “How do we keep this going even if I don’t have my sight?”

And so we started training. It started with me just closing my eyes for certain skills and we’d see how it would go. And then we would try to do a full sequence of skills with my eyes closed.

So then when “AGT” came around, that’s when we really started training really, really hard. Every time we would train, I would just train blindfolded. And so you can imagine how many times Mary has taken a fall. Hundreds of times she’s fallen to the mat because of that. But we’ve worked on it for many years.

DN: Was “Champions” the first time you both performed blindfolded?

TN: Yeah, that’s the first time we’d ever done that. In season 13 in the finale, I did the routine with me completely blindfolded the whole time. Mary was not. So when we came back and did our first round on “Champions,” we put Mary in the blindfold through about half of it. We had never done that in front of anyone before. We only practiced it.

The Utah trapeze act Duo Transcend is the runner-up for season two of “AGT: The Champions.”
Trae Patton, NBC

DN: When filming, how much time did you have between routines to practice?

TN: Between the first round and the second round I think we had one week. And then between the semifinal round and the finals I think we had two days. It was a pretty tight schedule. … Basically when we went on the show, we had to already just be prepared for the three routines. We had to just have them ready to go because there was no time to prepare during the season.

DN: After your first performance on “Champions,” judge Simon Cowell made this comment, “I would love to see you have your own show in Vegas.” Is that something in the works for you two or something that you’re looking into?

TN: Yes it is, actually. At the moment, we are speaking with a show that’s in Vegas. We’re working on a contract with them right now. We’ll probably make that public here in the next couple of weeks once we get everything all figured out with the contract and getting us integrated with the show and everything. We’re super excited.

DN: Watching “Champions” this season, there were similar acts — Duo Destiny from Poland and the Sandou Trio Russian Bar, also from Utah. For you two, who did you view to be your greatest competition?

TN: We’re actually friends with both of them. We have known them for years. We knew how good both acts were. We knew it was going to be a handful with either one of them. I think we viewed both of them as competition. They’re both such great acts.

The Utah trapeze act Duo Transcend is the runner-up for season two of “AGT: The Champions.”
Trae Patton, NBC

DN: Did your faith (as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) help you at all during the competition?

TN: Absolutely. One thing that Mary and I have always done throughout our entire career is we always have a prayer before we perform, whether it’s in a big show, whether we’re practicing, whatever it is. We always have a prayer before we perform because it’s just something that’s really important to us.

Before we went out to do all the filming for “Champions,” I had my dad, who’s a priesthood holder, give both Mary and I a priesthood blessing. We just wanted him to bless us that we would have a calm demeanor throughout the whole “AGT’ experience because it can get so stressful. The nerves is what kills you. If you can’t control your nerves, it’s just so hard to focus and do what you know you need to do. So we just had him give us a blessing about calming our nerves, helping us to really focus on our goal and then to just be able to follow the spirit and follow our gut on what it is that we should do in our performances.

DN: That’s so great, especially being on such a national level and being able to still keep that as a foundation.

TN: When you’re faced with those situations where you know you’re about to go on TV and you could have a really bad experience and then the whole world gets to see it ... when you’re faced with that kind of pressure, the thing that’s on the forefront of your mind is your faith in God and whatever help you can get to get you through the situation that you’re in.

Lucky for us, we live a life that requires us to do really dangerous stuff. We’re always kind of in a situation where we need our minds to be focused. It really helps us constantly think about our faith. We’re constantly thinking about it because we’re always doing scary stuff.

DN: Throughout the competition you guys definitely seemed to have the judges’ support. Going from the semifinals to the finals, it was the judges who actually pushed you through over Duo Destiny. What did that mean to you that the judges pushed you through?

TN: That was an incredibly intense moment. We were talking to Duo Destiny when it came time for the results, and I’m like, “I got a feeling that somehow we’re going to be the ones that get paired up together to see who goes through. I just have a feeling that’s going to happen.” And so sure enough it did.

It really solidified that what we do, people appreciate it. It gave us a boost of confidence to know that the judges could see a bright future for us. That was a cool moment. We love Duo Destiny and we had talked to them before all of that even happened. We told them, “If we get paired up and you guys go through or we go through, it’s not going to change anything about our relationship. It’s not going to change the way we feel about you guys. We love you and we’ll always be friends.”

When we made it through, we talked to them afterwards and we actually went out to dinner with them that night. It was very sweet. They’re just a great couple.

DN: Do you think you’ll ever return to “AGT”? Is there anything else you could do with the show?

Mary Ellen Wolfe and Tyce Nielsen, an acrobatic husband-and-wife team known by the name Duo Transcend, competed Tuesday night on the “America’s Got Talent” finals. Duo Transcend is one of 10 acts vying for the champion spot.
The Utah trapeze act Duo Transcend is the runner-up for season two of “AGT: The Champions.”
Trae Patton, NBC

TN: We probably won’t return and compete because we’ve kind of proven who we are. There really wouldn’t be much of a point to go back. But “AGT” brings back people from years’ past — some finalists or people that have won the show — and they do special guests performances throughout the season. If they ask us to come back to do a guest performance, we absolutely would.

DN: Why do you think the show is so successful and popular?

TN: I think that deep down, people like to watch people do amazing things, and “AGT” is a platform that has some of the most amazing talent on the Earth. I think that’s why they have such a great following is because everybody wants to see the next cool thing that a human being does.