“She’s dead if it turns out badly,” Lord Judge Simon Cowell whispered on Tuesday’s America’s Got Talent TV show, as New Orleans entertainer Gigi Deluxe Arroyo withdrew her bow for shoot an arrow at the balloon her daughter Devon was holding between her teeth. The William Tell-style stunt made Judge Howie Mandel cringe and clench his shining forehead in horror. “I can’t watch,” he said.
Devon, who refuses to share her last name, said she was unaware of the tension at the judges’ table. She was concentrating on grabbing the golden toy balloon with her incisors, while her mother aimed at it. “I took a look at Simon,” she said. “He had a sour face.”
It’s been a long day. It was 9 p.m. and Gigi and Devon had been on the Los Angeles TV set since early in the morning. It was late March 2021 and the coronavirus protocols were still in place, so the mother-daughter team had been tested for the virus and had been in quarantine for a few days. Everyone was nice, but Arroyo said she wasn’t at her best.
She had had dental treatment recently and her face was still a little puffy, but she was more than sure she could skewer the quivering ball a few inches from her daughter’s face, 15 feet away. After all, she had done it hundreds of times before. Although this has been national television, by far the largest audience it has ever played before.
Arroyo said she was born in Puerto Rico, raised in Chicago, and five years ago moved to New Orleans. At 14, she was a runaway, she said, dressing to be part of the dance club scene in Chicago and New York. “I was raised by drag queens,” she said.
Arroyo eventually established herself as a tattoo artist, circus sword swallower and, above all, an expert archer. Arroyo said that somewhere along the line she started to “have problems with drugs and alcohol”. One of the things that helped her get sober, she said, was shooting the bow. She practiced, practiced, practiced, until she was sure she could incorporate potentially lethal flying arrows into an act.
Arroyo discovered that her trusted friends were her “human targets,” but over time she found she needed someone more reliable. Enter her teenage daughter Devon, who has agreed to risk everything to help Mom. It was eight years ago. “Yeah, it’s pretty scary getting shot with arrows,” Devon said, with supreme nonchalance, “but I don’t think she’s going to hit me.”
Arroyo said there was nothing to worry about. “She knew how diligent I was,” she said. “If I don’t feel good, if it’s not 100%, we don’t.
During Tuesday’s show, Arroyo joked about what many viewers might consider to be a strange parent-child bonding practice. “It builds character,” she said.
These days, Arroyo has put down her tattoo needle and has become a full-time artist, appearing with her bow and sword at conventions, tattoo parlors, parties, and even weddings. Somehow, the venerable variety show “America’s Got Talent” caught wind of her act and invited her to compete.
The 21-year-old Daredevil Devon is still part of the family act, but she doesn’t see it as her future career. Instead, she is studying engineering at university.
As ironic as it may sound, Devon’s father is an emergency physician and often called upon to treat accident victims. He and Arroyo are divorced. In preparation for Gigi and Devon’s “America’s Got Talent” performance, they informed the judges that Devon’s father did not approve of the adrenaline-invoking mother-daughter activity. At first, Arroyo said, they didn’t tell him what they were doing. Eventually, he attempted to attend a show but ended up retreating in his car to the parking lot during the show, ready to run to the hospital if the worst happened.
Before the first arrow crossed the stage, Judge Mandel threatened to flee himself to the parking lot. Arroyo and Devon somehow wished he had, as, in the end, Mandel was the only one of the four judges who voted against the death-defying team to advance in the competition.
‘Cone Couture’ orange mesh dresses, tulle branded French Quarter procession
Arroyo said Mandel’s only complaint was that he had seen similar acts in the past. But Arroyo disagrees. She points out that her performance improves over all others, as she doesn’t just spit a ball, she spits three balloons nestled in each other. She must burst the first balloon without piercing the second, and she must burst the second without notching the third. There is nervousness in nervousness, in nervousness.
Plus, Arroyo said, she practices archery the old fashioned way, Robin Hood. There is no crossbow, telescopic sight, or laser pointer, just muscle, sight, and guts.
“It’s real, all of you, it’s real,” yelled Terry Crews, the grimacing “America’s Got Talent” host, as Arroyo let his arrows fly. When the last balloon exploded into shreds of rubber, the judges and the audience gasped in relief. But it was not over yet. Fearless Devon then walked over to the center of the backstop and let mum barely miss the top of her torso with a few more steel point and carbon shank arrows.
The two sparkly, fitted, midnight black women’s jumpsuits – which Arroyo had made by hand – shone in the spotlight, as applause poured around them.
Gigi and Devon didn’t dwell on the potential for a hideous death afterward, but they were concerned about their appearance on TV. They worried about how the show would be edited and how their off-the-cuff comments would be viewed. Their apprehension was such that on Tuesday night they had decided not to watch the show at all. Gigi and Devon were planning to go out for a tiramisu as they claimed their March fling was not being broadcast worldwide. Later, mom dyes her daughter’s hair in the kitchen.
But they couldn’t resist. In the end, they tuned in.
“It was better than I thought it would be,” said Devon.
“It was a lot of fun,” Arroyo added. “It was an experience.”
It was a place where Grizzly Adams and Morticia Addams could easily find common ground.