How Rising TikTok Magician Sean Sotaridona's Filipino Heritage Drives Him to Succeed as 'SeanDoesMagic'
“l actually wrote down that by the time I graduated, I would be able to make enough money to make this my full career and not go to college,” the 19-year-old said.
Sean Sotaridona was a freshman in high school when he made the decision to become a social media video content creator after he graduated. College was not something he aspired to pursue. Magic was his passion and he wanted to make other people smile from it by posting videos of tricks. Now, he’s got 20 million TikTok followers on his account "SeanDoesMagic", proving the market he believed existed for magic was wide open for the taking.
“l actually wrote down that by the time I graduated, I would be able to make enough money to make this my full career and not go to college,” the 19-year-old said during an interview with Inside Edition Digital for its “On the Rise” series.
Sean is the son of Filipino parents who grew up in a poor area of the Philippines who worked tirelessly to make their way to the Netherlands and eventually Washington state for prosperous opportunities. So the idea of their son becoming a professional magician stumped them at first.
His dad, Leo Sotaridona, taught mathematics for eight years in the Philippines and moved to the Netherlands to pursue an advanced education in psychometrics. Upon completion of his PhD in 2003, he moved his family to the U.S. for a new job opportunity.
“It's kind of awkward telling your parents who worked so hard to get to the United States, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, instead of taking their career path that you chose, to go to college, get an education. I want to make magic videos on the internet,” Sean said.
Leo was hoping college would be plan A. “I told him if he decided to be in college, he can always go out and pursue, still, what he wanted to do related to being a magician any time,” he said.
Eventually Leo accepted that his son would pursue what he considered plan B. “I think they genuinely saw my passion for it,” Sean said.
Sean was 6 years old when an episode of the cartoon “Franklin” inspired him to try magic. The first trick he ever learned was where you “take off your thumb and then you put it right back on,” he recalled. From there, he learned magic through books and magic kits.
“I was very intrigued with the idea of being able to amaze people with just everyday objects,” Sean said of finding his passion for the art. He used recess as a stage for sharing his progress. “It was almost like a challenge, to try to fool my friends.”
Sean performed his skillset in school talent shows and by the time he was 10, he started making videos to share his tricks. He was fascinated with YouTube, especially a magician known as MisMag822. Sean also found inspiration in David Blane. “He was one of the early people to transcend magic from on stage to television,” he said. “I really want to do the same -- taking it from television and stage, and bringing it to social media.”
He auditioned for “America’s Got Talent” four times but never made it to the next round. The rejection is what inspired Sean to turn his attention to social media.
Growing a Social Presence
Sean’s persistence was his tool to success and one of the reasons why he has amassed millions of social media followers. “I was a really determined kid,” he said. “I would go on posts of celebrities and people with bigger followings, and I would just self-promote myself. Like, ‘Hey, if anybody sees this comment, if y'all want to check out my content, I'm really trying to make it big.’” He quickly went from 900 to 30,000 followers on Instagram.
Then, TikTok happened.
By the time Sean graduated from Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Washington in June 2020, he had 12 million TikTok followers. Sean credits some of his success to his early adoption of the platform, having hopped on as it was transitioning from being known as Musically.
By senior year, he had gained 1 million followers. It was then that he knew was skipping college all together and going straight to Los Angeles. “There was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to come out here,” he said. Sean moved to his Porter Ranch, California home called “Pound LA” in October 2020. He shares the space with five friends. “It was just a very straightforward, focused goal of mine to just make this my career,” he said.
While Sean was sad to miss out on a traditional senior year of high school because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shutdown helped him reach new TikTok milestones as people sat home on their phones. “That’s actually where I got my peak growth,” he said. “We went from three to 10 million [followers on TikTok] in about six weeks.”
Now, he’s gained upwards of 20 million TikTok followers.
“If you told little 10-year-old Sean, ‘one day there's going to be 20 million people watching your content,’ I probably would have slapped you across your face with my tiny 10-year-old hands. It’s just been a dream and I'm so grateful for where I'm at right now,” he said.
Sean loves making people feel like kids again as he wows them with his tricks. “There's that genuine joy of, ‘What just happened?’ And it's that feeling that you can make someone feel like anything is possible,” he said. “[Magic] can transcend any language and that’s what makes it really successful.”
The one trick he says everyone should learn how to do is the illusion of sticking a pen up your nose and pulling it out of your mouth. “It’s a really cool one,” he said as he demonstrated over Zoom.
But unlike the big-time magicians, Sean likes to reveal his secrets.
“You’ve got to keep the art form alive and you've got to inspire other magicians. So I love being able to show both ends of being a magician. The performing and the tutorials,” he explained.
The pressure of entertaining his 20 million followers hasn’t affected him. “He's just a genuinely good guy and genuinely cares about other people,” Sean’s manager Matt Maguire told Inside Edition Digital.
“I knew what was coming, but it definitely feels that you're being watched a lot,” Sean explained of his growing celebrity. “Every small thing you do, people are watching you and anything that you say can be taken, any which way. So it's always something to be wary about.”
For Sean, remembering his morals and heritage help him stay grounded.
“I truly believe that a lot of my core values, and everything that I believe in, comes from my Filipino heritage,” he said. “One of the big things is hard work, [it] is a huge thing. Whatever you do, whether it is being a doctor, a lawyer or social media, in this case: Just work hard. And I get a lot of that from my parents and my culture.”
His father agreed. “I always ask him that whatever happens to him -- if he becomes very successful,” his dad said, “He should not forget where we came from.”
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