Christian Stoinev ’13 is a name we’ve heard before. Famous for an impressive hand-balancing act with his Chihuahua, Scooby, Stoinev has been around the performance block time and time again.

He has made multiple appearances on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. He has made it as far as the top 12 but unfortunately has fallen short of victory.

Such losses would take a toll on some people, but not Stoinev. This past December, Stoinev’s drive and talent earned him a big win on Das Supertalent, a German talent show, along with another go at America’s Got Talent: The Champions.

“You want to win no matter what, but you also really want your name out there,” Stoinev said. “At the end of the day, it’s all opinions and down to voting or the judges deciding. You can’t control what people think, so it’s about executing the best that we can.”

Despite the heartbreak that goes along with shows such as America’s Got Talent, he couldn’t imagine doing anything but performing right now.

After all, circus performance is in his blood.

parents holding baby

Christian Stoinev as an infant with his parents, Ivan Stoinev and Maritza Atayde.

Stoinev was born to a family of circus performers, and his school curriculum catered to young performers on the road. Although he enjoyed the individualized attention, his school experience lacked interaction with children his own age and the opportunity to play sports he loves, like basketball. With free time and a desire to find his performance niche, Stoinev tried all things circus before realizing hand balancing was the act for him.

“I was trying to be a juggler and a unicyclist,” he said. “At age 10, I started hand balancing, and it just stuck. Then I wanted a pet.”

Stoinev’s parents let him adopt his first Chihuahua, Scooby. Little did his family know that the perfect travel-sized dog who started out as a furry companion would later be recognized as a crucial part of his hand-balancing act.

“He always begged with his front paws when he wanted snacks,” Stoinev said. “One day I was laying on the floor watching TV, and Scooby did a thing with his paw when he was on my back, and my dad noticed. He told me to see if Scooby would do that trick at practice the next day. From there, it opened up the idea, and the act just really evolved.”

Although his initial thought was to get as far away from the cold as possible, Stoinev was recruited to be in Illinois State’s Gamma Phi Circus. The director at the time, Al Light, was no stranger to Stoinev’s act and had seen videos of his impressive hand-balancing routine made more impressive with a well-trained pup. It was an opportunity that could not be passed.

“ISU felt like home and the members of the circus at the time were so welcoming,” he says. “It felt right. The fit felt really perfect.”

Despite a big transition, Stoinev said his time in Gamma Phi was refreshing and rewarding. Stoinev reminisced on his favorite part about being a part of one of two collegiate circuses in the whole country.

“I went through my four years with my best friend,” he said. “We became the leaders of the gym as upperclassmen. It was genuine and a natural progression. People came to us for advice.”

“Loyalty and respect were nice to feel from our peers,” he added. “It was something that we really took to heart. With that we wanted to do the best we could. And I still have that attitude when I perform today.”

In his final semester, the broadcast journalism major had two options: apply his degree or pursue his passion. Knowing that aging is inevitable and that his body would not be in tiptop shape forever, Stoinev decided that he wanted to keep performing. He emailed companies near and far looking for a chance to perform. After a lot of emailing and no answers back, he kept telling himself one thing.

“Keep knocking on all the doors you can. Eventually one will open. Then another one opens. And another one opens. That’s how I got in with America’s Got Talent.”

Their act, Christian and Scooby, had experience on the show before Stoinev’s time at Illinois State. They made it past the audition stage in season two, but when Scooby was injured before the Las Vegas round, the act could not be saved. After graduation, Stoinev wanted redemption.

Christian and Scooby was brought back in season nine of America’s Got Talent. Crowds went wild when Stoinev balanced on a wine bottle, and their excitement grew when Scooby walked out of a small tote bag to jump on his feet. As the weeks progressed, so did their stunts.

With even more tricks up their sleeves, the two were on a roll, leaving lasting impressions on the judges and winning the hearts of voters across the country up until the top 12. Here is when the duo did not rack up enough votes to be in the final six.

man balancing on one hand with small dog on back

Christian Stoinev and Scooby performing

“When we went back for our finals run, we were nervous,” he said. “But really I just thought that it was great I got to stay another week with my friends. We were all going through the same stress, and we all understand that it’s picking a name out of a hat because we are all different art forms. We’re all top-notch at what we do so we rooted for one another and were happy for each other.

“In the end, I would rather people say, ‘He should have made it through,’ rather than, ‘Why is he here?’ It’s crazy because for performers you think that we’re on these shows for ‘win or bust’ but the exposure is the most important.”

And that it was.

Since America’s Got Talent, Christian and Scooby has been a growing sensation in more than one industry. Although Scooby’s age has gotten the best of him, Stoinev’s newest trained Chihuahua, Percy, is turning out to be one energetic crowd-pleaser as well. In honor of the legacy that Scooby left, the title of the act has stayed the same.

The duo has a show in Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan and has become a staple at halftime shows for NBA and college basketball games across the country.

“Cherish the opportunities because you never know the path that it will lead you on,” said Stoinev, whose resilience and trust in the process has brought him success and more opportunity than he could have imagined.

Along with the ongoing performance in Las Vegas and the demands of basketball halftime shows, Christian and Scooby has been on Britain’s Got Talent, The Gong Show, and Das Supertalent.

In Das Supertalent, Stoinev and Scooby’s execution put them straight into the finals with a golden buzzer.

“I don’t speak German, so a little part of me was unsure,” Stoinev said. “They really fell in love with Percy though, and they were forced to fall in love with me. We were a fan favorite going into the final, so there was pressure, and I knew we couldn’t mess up.”

Focused on having a good routine and doing their best, the pair not only came out with a performance that dazzled the judges and Germany, but also a win.

“It was amazing to win,” he said. “We stayed focus and had the best mindset we could. This is what happens when preparation is met with opportunity, and I did everything I could to be prepared for this opportunity.

“It’s been nice to have things coming our way because when we started, we were reaching out to find things.”

This includes offers to perform at hockey games, more basketball games, and even another go at America’s Got Talent: The Champions this January. This rendition of the popular television talent show features 40 acts around the world declared the best of the best with the winner decided by the judging panel and a select group of superfans. Unfortunately, Stoinev fell short on America’s Got Talent: The Champions with the loss of the judges’ vote.

dog jumping through hoop

Christian Stoinev and Percy perform during a Chicago Bulls’ halftime show.

Despite that loss, with perseverance and undying love for his skill, Stoinev achieved what he had been dreaming of since he was a 14-year-old on America’s Got Talent. Not only his dream to perform, but his dream to be on a basketball court.

“At the end of the day, I remind myself that as a kid I wanted to be an athlete on the court and I didn’t have that opportunity, but I found my way onto the court anyway, and that’s what sticks with me and what makes it really special,” he said.