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Castillo's Got Talent: Former Roane County man finishes fifth on NBC show

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By Dwane Wilder

Former Roane County resident Joe Castillo made it all the way to the finals Thursday on NBC’s popular show, “America’s Got Talent.”

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But the sand artist’s run for $1 million against five other finalists ended with a fifth-place finish in the talent-show competition.

“It was wonderful,” the beret-clad bearded sand artist known as “Beret Joe” told judges Howie Mandel, Sharon Osbourne and Howard Stern when they announced his departure.

“God has given me a wonderful opportunity to tell SandStories, and I will continue to do that.”

Castillo, who was innkeeper from 2005-06 at Whitestone Country Inn in the Paint Rock community, depicted the three celebrity judges and host Nick Cannon in sand while a blaring rock band and fireworks set the stage behind him in his final competition performance on Wednesday.

“Howard, he finally put a beret on your head,” Cannon gloated to the radio “shock jock.”

Now 64 years old and living in Richmond, Ky., with his wife Cindy, Castillo has spent his summer mesmerizing the “AGT” judges and television audiences with his SandStory art form.

“I developed it in my garage,” he said during a telephone interview last week from New York City.

“I tell stories in sand that inspire and affirm people, stories of hope, stories of loyalty, stories of faith and stories of redemption,” he continued. “Those are the kinds of stories that can change people’s lives. It’s been amazing to see their impact.”

As part of his new creative process, Castillo uses a light table and sand to construct a picture story set to music and projected onto a large viewing screen. He manipulates the sand using only his two hands.

“I don’t use any computers or implements,” he explained. “The music provides the mood and flow to what I’m doing.”

Since developing the unique art form, Castillo has been recognized worldwide as a premier sand artist. Castillo performs 170-180 days a year and has taken SandStory to 40 states and 18 foreign countries.

He has performed for heads of state, former presidents and once did a show for 35,000 Catholic high school students at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“Joe has worked with me for many years as a graphic artist and youth minister,” said Paul Cowell, owner of Whitestone Country Inn. “He is a very gifted artist and an exceptional person.”

With his wife in the audience, Castillo received a standing ovation on Thursday for his exhibition performance following the judges’ announcement.

As a children’s choir put a sweet spin on Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,” Castillo used sand to form a globe. A row of hand-clasping children were placed across it, with a child’s face as the final product.

“Outstanding!” Cannon declared, a comment that complemented Mandel’s parting words.

“I think you opened our minds and led us down an original path we have never seen before,” the comedian and game show host said.

“I’m glad you entered into our lives.”