Mistie Knight -- a Pontotoc County native – is world famous in some parts of Pontotoc County.
She’s also world famous across the five continents she’s been on during an international career in magic.
Mistie, the daughter of the late Bobby Williams, who died in 2017, and Kathryn Armstrong Williams, and Carol Billings & Bob Billings, is a 2000 honors graduate of South Pontotoc High School, who was also a member of By Faith Baptist Church.
“In my high school senior book, I wrote that my wish was to travel the world. Little did I know that life would bring me to 5 continents and 83 countries,” she said this week.
She was very active in high school and college, she recalled this week.
At South Pontotoc, she was a high school varsity cheerleader, on the Student Council, and a writer for the newspaper staff.
She was busy off-campus as well.
“I was Miss Teen Pontotoc 2000 and Miss Pontotoc 2002. I have to give a special thank you to Ms. Laura Franklin of Pontotoc for teaching me so much about stage presence and public speaking while being a titleholder. I credit my early success in our show to my experience in the Miss America Organization, and still use the public speaking training on a regular basis onstage, in interviews and on TV,” she said.
She later attended ICC and Delta State University.
“I was a member of student government, Indian Delegation, yearbook photographer, and on the Homecoming Court two years while at ICC.
“While attending ICC I worked at the Tupelo Country Club where I entertained the guests by playing the piano in the dining room. I have always loved performing!
“At Delta State I was a member of Renaissance vocal & rhythm ensemble-- I played keyboard -- also served as a Delta Diplomat and was a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority,” she said.
She originally studied early childhood education while in Mississippi, with plans to become an elementary school counselor, but upon moving to Las Vegas finished her degree at UNLV studying psychology.
“In December 2002 I went on a cruise with some friends, and I met a handsome and charming magician – Kyle Knight - who would change my life forever. We kept in touch over the phone 10 months, and then I came to visit him in Las Vegas. I canceled my return flight home and we’ve been traveling the world performing together ever since!
“I don’t think anyone was surprised when I moved off to Vegas to join a magic show. I’ve always been someone that was spontaneous and had big goals and wanted to take advantage of all that the world had to offer me,” she said.
The couple married in April 2010 in Las Vegas, surrounded by her family from Mississippi and Kyle’s from Wisconsin, as well as a colorful cast of characters the couple calls friends. “In attendance were many magicians (of course), jugglers, singers, sword swallowers, dancers – every type of performing artist,” she recalled.
Kyle is originally from Racine, Wisc., and moved to Las Vegas to purse his showbiz dreams. He has a degree in video and TV production, but he’s been performing magic ever since he was a kid. He jokes that his only real job was baling hay on a diary farm in Wisconsin, and that was enough to convince him that he didn’t want a “real job” anymore.
He built his own illusions as a teen, and then taught magic classes at the university to pay his way through college. For years he headlined dinner theaters and casinos on the West Coast, and even performed at a casino in Tunica for a season in the late 90s.
And no - there’s no School of Witchcraft and Wizardry out there. Learning magic is mostly personal experience, lecture notes, DVDs, books and workshops. Kyle spent his early years studying magic books in the local library. Like most magicians, you have to be self-taught, and that means a lot of hard work, creativity and practice, practice, practice.
“We believe that the illusions are not what’s important... what is important is making a real connection with the audience. We also try to use our magic to tell a story. One of the most popular pieces is one we call ‘Nothing’s Impossible’ where I share how Kyle defied the odds to pursue his dreams though constant adversity, and how I came from small town Mississippi, followed my heart and ended up sharing the stage with him.”
“The reason people love magic is because it allows them to suspend their belief. Be in a place where the normal rules don’t apply, and forget about the real world and all the stresses that come with it. Magic goes beyond age, language, culture…it gives you permission to be a child again, and truly believe that nothing is impossible for just a moment,” she said.
She may have been involved with magic, but she didn’t “disappear” from the pageant circuit because she saw it as an opportunity to hone her speaking and stage skills, and pay for her college tuition
In 2006 she was crowned Miss Las Vegas, in the Miss America Organization. In addition to taking home the title, she also won overall talent award with her classical piano performance.
“I had worked SO hard to master this piano piece. It was originally my goal to perform at Miss Mississippi in 2002 but it was too difficult for me, so being able to reach that goal was a huge accomplishment for me.”
She went on to place third at the Miss Nevada pageant that year and won overall swimsuit competition and $30,000 total in scholarships from the Miss America Organization.
In 2007 she finished her pageant career, after winning the title of Miss Nevada US. The competition was 50% interview, and she was named 2nd runner up to Miss US and was awarded Miss Congeniality by the fellow contestants.
For over a decade she and Kyle were headlining on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Disney Cruise Lines traveling to the Caribbean, Alaska, South America and Europe.
In addition to the cruises, they regularly performed in Hollywood at the Magic Castle and at various casinos in Las Vegas. Internationally, they’ve performed for the royal family in Dubai, at a magic festival in Athens, Greece, for a special event in Cairo, Egypt and had an extended run at a casino in Macau, China.
Traveling has been her biggest joy in life, and she’s grateful that they’ve had the opportunity to see the world.
“ My favorite memories are seeing the Coliseum in Rome (with my dad who was visiting us), climbing the pyramids in Egypt, bathing in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, seeing the Mona Lisa and Eiffel Tower in Paris, visiting a colony of thousands of penguins in Argentina, visiting the mosques in Turkey, cathedrals in Russia and temples in Japan; hiking in Norway, seeing Incan ruins in Peru, swimming with sea turtles in the Caribbean, and riding elephants in Thailand,” she said.
On TV, the couple has appeared on Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us” and were the grand prize winners on SyFy channel’s magic competition show “Wizard Wars” where they created an effect that Penn Jillette called “stunningly fabulous.”
The favorite part of her job is connecting with all different kinds of people from different cultures all over the world.
“What we do isn’t about the illusions, it’s about the shared experience with the people we are performing for. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in making the audience my first priority. During our seasons performing in South America and Spain I learned Spanish so that I could translate the show for them.
“A couple years ago we were cruising the Med and we found out that our audience was going to be 100% Italian speaking, so I gave myself a crash course in Italian and was able to translate the show for them as well. We received a standing ovation from both Italian audiences that night and it was one of my proudest moments.
“When we performed in Egypt I was nervous at first because the culture is so different. I covered my shoulders, and did my best to be respectful of their home, and I greeted them in Arabic and thanked them for their hospitality. I will never forget the cheers I heard from the crowd in that moment. They were SO welcoming of us,” she recalled.
The couple’s biggest challenge yet was performing in China, where their act had to be completely nonverbal. Connecting to the audience without words is not an easy task, she said, but eventually it became easy and they found ways to communicate with their expressions and smiles and laughter.
The couple’s show has changed a lot over the years, originally touring with a big illusion show that traveled in up to 16 road cases.
“The cruises would send a truck to our house a few weeks before our shows, and ship our equipment to the venue. It was quite an elaborate and time-consuming process to prepare and build the show once we arrived at the venue, and the initial show install would take several days of work to even get the show up and running,” she said.
She’s an integral part of the show, and her duties have evolved into far more than just being glammed up and appearing on stage.
“Early on I played the role of a traditional assistant, but in 2009 I began speaking in the show and performing my own magic, and the dynamic changed to more of an equal partnership. This is quite rare in our industry, and has been well received by the audience and by our peers. We are both considered magicians and partners, and we are at our best when we are supporting each other onstage.
“I have many responsibilities with our show: constant emails, writing the scripts, editing the music, building the audio playlists and cue sheets for the technicians. I have also been our business manager for years, handling all bookings, negotiations, public relations, and travel logistics. In recent years I’ve also become an agent and manager for several other acts, booking them on cruises as well and consulting for their shows.
“I believe my outgoing personality and assertiveness has helped me be successful with the show and the business side as well. And I definitely think that holding onto a bit of my Southern charm has been an asset as well!,” she said.
Kyle stays busy onstage and off as well.
“He’s very creative and also is quite the carpenter. He has designed and built many of the illusions that we have performed in our shows, even marketing his original illusions to other magicians.
“One of his original designs was recently featured on America’s Got Talent The Champions, which was used to levitate Heidi Klum! He also builds and sells lightweight travel tables for performers.
“Our full stage show featured over a dozen grand illusions, including a unique version of sawing me in half, where two volunteers hold me down by my neck and my ankles. It’s performed completely surrounded,” she said. (Youtube link: https://youtu.be/8f2JRtl1GyY )
The couple has also performed a duet of magic and music featuring Mistie on the piano.
The couple’s illusion show is very physical and can be quite dangerous. She has several scars from mishaps onstage.
“We once had a 200 pound illusion tip over with me in it, and my face was smashed and it nearly broke my nose – in front of an audience of 1,000 people!
“I was back onstage for the next act and didn’t even miss my costume change. The show must go on,” she said.
When the act went wrong, as they occasionally do, the best way to handle it is to stay calm and laugh it off. “One time the sawing in half tipped over – with me in it - in front of the audience. Kyle made a joke: ‘Okay, if everyone could just close your eyes for a moment that would be great!’ They laughed, the show continued and we got a standing ovation. The audience is rooting for you to succeed, and when they see that you are genuine, they appreciate you even more.”
In regard to dealing with distractions like cell phones, “Kyle might go up and grab the phone and take a photo with it, which quickly gets the point across! We’ve been lucky with hecklers though; it’s not something that really happens often, but in the end we’re the ones with the microphones so we’re in control. And I still have enough sass to handle them, if I ever need to bring it out!” she said.
In recent years their show has become less about spectacle and more about personality. The entire show fits into two standard suitcases, and is much easier to travel with. It’s a mix of comedy magic, illusions, mentalism (mind-reading) and sleight of hand projected on the big screens.
And to the question: How do you DO that? Here’s her oft-given answer to that oft-asked question. “It’s been said that magicians are guarding an empty safe. There is no such thing as real magic, so we have an irreverent approach to it at times. In our sawing in half, for example, Kyle exposes an old version with a photo on the big screens showing two girls curled up in boxes, and he even pulls out a pair of fake legs and says ‘we’re not even going to use these tonight!
“We don’t expect our audiences to believe that he actually cut me in half, but we do expect them to be amazed and entertained by the experience of it,” she said.
Until about three years ago the couple was on the road typically eight months a year, but recently they’ve cut back their travels and perform more for local theaters and corporate events in Vegas.
Covid-19 has changed their lives in many ways, some good and some bad, she said.
“It has forced us to slow down and really seek out the little things that we appreciate in life that we didn’t always get to enjoy while being on the road. It’s been really nice being able to be home and cook meals, and spend time with family.
“Kyle’s mom lives here in Vegas too and we are spending more time with her. We also were finally able to get a dog – after waiting for so many years! And now we have two puppies, a Pomeranian named Zero and a Pomapaoo named Jaxx,” she said.
Covid brought the entire entertainment industry to a halt indefinitely, and the couple lost 80% of their income for 2020.
“So many of our shows were canceled. We were supposed to perform in Australia this July, and it was one of the few places we hadn’t been yet so I was so excited, but that was canceled.
“We also had a big contract on Oasis of the Seas coming up and our equipment was shipped there, and then it was canceled. When we got our equipment back, thousands of dollars of damage had been done to our illusions and their insurance would only cover $50, so that was very hard to deal with in an already difficult situation,” she said.
Covid has been devastating for some fellow entertainers.
“We have always saved so we were still able to keep our heads above water, but we were forced to adapt and evolve.
“In April we began doing virtual shows, which are live, interactive shows performed over the video conferencing app Zoom. We perform these mostly as entertainment for company meetings and private parties, as well as the occasional online fundraiser or virtual happy hour.
“Every now and then we have a public ticketed virtual show too where anyone can watch and participate and tickets are only $20 per household,” she said. For more information about upcoming shows visit KnightMagic.com/tickets/
In addition to performing virtual shows, the couple has also begun another new adventure as Facebook content creators. They have a new Facebook page that is monetized, where they produce new videos weekly featuring magic, puzzles, pranks and all kinds of fun things. Their most recent video got 11 million views in four days, she recalled.
When videos do well they are able to make money through them, and bring in some extra income. “The whole experience has been quite different for us than our stage shows, but we always strive to be versatile and are thankful for the new opportunity. We appreciate everyone being so supportive and sharing our videos!” To follow their new video page visit Facebook.com/KyleandMistieShow
In addition to their shows, they also volunteer with an organization called Win-Win Entertainment, often performing magic for USO shows, charity events and for the patients at local children’s hospitals.
Among the triumphs has come tragedy.
“I was VERY close to my dad, Bobby Williams, and he was truly our biggest fan. He came on cruises often and would reserve his seat sometimes an hour before the show started. He was so supportive and I couldn't have asked for a better dad!
“We lost him to cancer back in 2017, but not before he had the chance to travel Europe, Alaska, Maine, Grand Canyon and the Caribbean with us. I have so many wonderful memories with him and I am so grateful for that! In March 2016 we performed in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and it was the last time daddy was in our audience.
“ It is a wonderful memory for me. It was extra special because my whole family was there – my dad, stepmom, mom and stepdad and even my cousin and several friends from Pontotoc drove up to see us. That really meant so much to me! I’m also grateful that he brought my stepmom Kathryn into my life, I have remained close to her to this day, and I don’t know what I’d do without her,” she recalled.
Magicians are nothing if not obsessive. They can spend a lot of time in front of the mirror mastering one particular move. “Fortunately my dad loved being our “practice” audience. On his last trip to Vegas we set up our living room as a stage, and debuted a brand new show for my dad and Kathryn to be the first audience ever seeing it.
“Another time we threw a big party right before leaving for our long contract in China. We had a bunch of friends over, brought them into our garage and then said ‘SURPRISE you’re about to see our new show for China,’ so if you’re going to be close to us, expect to be a test audience at some point!” she said with a laugh.
The hardest part of the job is that the work never ends.
“If not onstage, we are still working nonstop at home – repairing props, creating and rehearsing new magic, consulting for other acts, marketing and planning our virtual shows, emails and phone calls, learning all of the new technology that comes with online shows, and now, creating, filming and editing new videos for Facebook.
“We still struggle to find a balance in life and draw the line where work ends and normal life begins. And working with your partner 24/7 requires a whole different level of patience,” she said.
And what does the future hold?
“I see us performing as long as we can. The kind of magic we perform will likely become less physical, but I don’t see us choosing to retire from showbiz for many years. I predict that I will continue working as an agent and manager for other acts, and possibly even producing other shows,” she concluded.
Here are several other YouTube links to their shows:
--Highlights from the couple’s TV and stage shows: https://youtu.be/cpJrKWEc8Dg
--Mistie doing some sleight of hand by herself: https://youtu.be/bYn9relbsi4