By STEPHANIE HAYES
Times Staff Writer
Theresa Caputo was home on Long Island when she called, about to head out to have her famous platinum hair styled by the only person she trusted to touch it. The hair that transcends space, time and demographics is totally New York. The trademark manicured talons? Those are negotiable.
"Florida is a great place to get my nails done," she said. "I might just pop into a local acrylic place to get my nails done. But my hair, absolutely not."
Caputo, of TLC's Long Island Medium, has a high-voltage image, funny, brash and easily caricatured — she has been parodied on Saturday Night Live — but she's got real emotional pull for millions of viewers. She's a psychic medium who says she communicates with the dead. On her show, she's seen popping into grocery stores and gyms like any suburban mom, stopping to deliver often eerily precise messages to strangers.
She brings with her an ever-present question of reality, both on TV and in life. But those shocking connections coupled with the accent, personality and hair make her a magnet to millennials in Brooklyn and grandmothers in the midwest alike. It's why her waiting list is years out. Why 8-year-olds have begged parents to come see her.
People want peace, she said.
"It has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with people believing in what I do, people believing in mediums. It has to do with knowing there's more to life than there is in the physical world. Knowing that your loved ones are still with us."
She's more at ease talking to people one-on-one, she said. Her appearance Saturday at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa is the kind of thing that makes her nervous. Caputo will speak about herself and let her spirit guide take her where it takes her, revealing messages to members of the crowd.
She knows fans will show up desperate for answers. She knows they won 't all get them.
"It's very uncomfortable for me," she said. "I don't necessarily like being the center of attention, actually, so I find it much easier to speak to dead people than to stand on stage. . . . It's so hard. That was one of the reasons why it took me a long time to do large venues, large groups and things like that. I don't want people walking away disappointed. That's why I try to prepare everyone in my speech, for them to try to look at this as an experience, you know, like anything that's happening, to pay attention."
Caputo's story goes that she first felt her ability at age 4, and what followed were years of anxiety, an existence that was difficult to believe.
"I mean, honestly, of course it was. How would you feel if one day you were told you're able to communicate with dead people? It was hard for me as a child. I thought it was normal. As I got older I thought, 'This isn't normal. No one else is experiencing this. I must be crazy.' "
She came to believe there were no coincidences, that she should pay attention to messages, that when she got a whiff of the corn muffins her grandma made in winter, snow was coming. She started her business before TLC came into the picture, she said, and she was booked for two years with clients before appearing on TV. Since then, she has gained dedicated legions of fans as well as detractors, skeptics who equate what she does to a parlor trick for money and fame.
She says she does not care to change everyone's mind.
"It's not important to me at all to convince anyone. People don't have to admit belief or understand the medium as long as they leave the event feeling different, a little bit of peace, closure, maybe rethinking their faith. ... I respect that it's hard for people to understand what I do, as far as skeptics and things like that. I respect it. How do you think my husband felt? How do you think my parents felt? It's crazy."
What bothers her, though, is when people say she has the time and wherewithal to fake readings and prepare for every possible situation. That's when she laughs and gets really blunt, and it's clear again why people relate.
"That's the thing that gets me," she said. "I'd be a (expletive) genius if I could sit home and Google and make up this s---."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3394.