By Merle Exit
Once considered the dumping ground of network television, summer months now include new scripted shows and plenty of reality TV choices.
Over the next few weeks, Queens will be well represented on those competition programs with not one but two residents vying for the top prize on “America’s Got Talent” and “MasterChef.”
Rockaway Beach resident Mike Greenstein, who goes by the moniker Mighty Atom Jr., is a 94-year-old strongman, who can pull a car using his teeth. In case you’re wondering, he is the contestant on “America’s Got Talent.”
On Fox’s “MasterChef,” Long Island City resident Jaimee Vitolo made it through the first episode and earned an apron, which means she will appear in Round 2.
Greenstein comes by his talents naturally — his father, Joseph, was a 20th-century strongman, known as The Mighty Atom, who amazed crowds with his feats of physical strength, as well as acts of mental powers. The older Greenstein performed until he was 81.
Mighty Atom Jr. has continued with the family business after stepping into a strongman role during WW II.
During the war, the elder Greenstein toured Army bases with his show, while his son was employed as an Army mechanic. Eventually, servicemen started asking the younger Greenstein if he could do some of the same tricks as his father. Having trained with his father, Greenstein put an act together.
“I would do shows in the towns of the (Army) camps that I traveled to in order to raise money for the war bonds,” Greenstein said. “I loved performing and keeping in shape at the same time.”
While most “America’s Got Talent” contestants perform for a series of judges before hitting the studio, Greenstein was invited to come on the show after the producers watched his car pulling stunt.
Vitolo, who was born in Astoria and grew up in Jackson Heights, now lives in Long Island City with her boyfriend. She was one of 22 contestants, who passed the first “MasterChef” test and earned an apron to move on.
By e-mail, Vitolo talked about her experience on the show and her life in the food business as a bakery assistant in Brooklyn.
“I get to do so much at my job,” Vitolo said. “We do a lot of simple, rustic pastries. Everything is made fresh and from scratch. I get a lot of creative freedom.”
A longtime fan of the show, Vitolo and her boyfriend have watched each season, last summer she toyed with the idea of trying out for the program.
“I thought how hilarious would it be if I tried out?” she said. “We joked about it for a while, and then I decided, why the hell not? So I went and auditioned.”
In October, with her mom in tow, Vitolo attended an open casting call in New York, where food experts sampled some of her creations. They liked what they tasted, so Vitolo was on her way to Los Angeles for the second round of auditioning.
“It was a lot of not knowing what was happening, then having to get something done in a day, then waiting weeks to hear back,” she said. “I was anxious for months.”
Vitolo’s first appearance was earlier this week, the show airs on Monday night, and she had not met any of the judges — restaurateurs Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich along with chef Graham Elliot — before the taping.
“It was totally unreal, seeing these legendary chefs and restaurateurs right in front of me was crazy,” she said. “I still don’t believe I got to meet them.”
Fox remains hush-hush about Vitolo’s performance in the competition or even how far she got.
As for Greenstein’s run on “America’s Got Talent,” he taped his segment, but no word yet on how far he will travel in the competition or if he will make it to the live judgment shows in late July.
But for Mighty Atom Jr. the experience has already proven worthwhile.
“When I got down there, I was in a room as I was questioned about what I do,” Greenstein said. “I love the feedback, especially at my age. I can bend steel bars and break chains. I feel that if I’m strong enough mentally, I am strong enough physically.”
And, just in case you are wondering, he still has his own teeth.