Regardless of what you believe or don't believe about Theresa Caputo's paranormal abilities, there is one fact about the "Long Island Medium" that is undisputable — she's compelling.
Consider the proof. A quick Google search shows there are no less than 39 Yellow Pages listings under the category "Psychics & Mediums" in just the Tampa Bay area alone. Across the country, there are tens of thousands.
And how many are the stars of their own hit reality shows?
Only Caputo, whose series, "Long Island Medium," is about her life as a vivacious, heavily hair-sprayed, blue-collar mom — the sort you could be standing next to in any checkout line across America — who just happens to make a living by chatting with the spirits of dead people.
The show attracts millions of viewers to the TLC network. Just weeks ahead of the season four premiere, Caputo will stop by the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Saturday, where she'll share personal stories, answer questions and give live readings to audience members.
"The biggest compliment is when people say, 'I feel like I know you,' or when people meet me and my husband and they say we're exactly like we are on the show," Caputo said by phone from New York. "I think that's part of the success, is that we really are this real family that you see on TV. I still don't see myself as being famous.
"At the end of the day I'm just Theresa Caputo, and I see dead people – out of my dining room," Caputo added, referring to the non-televised readings she continues to do out of her home.
The question of whether or not Caputo's abilities are the real deal is one that she's used to hearing. To her many clients — those who Caputo says will commonly wait two years to get an hour with her — the answer is yes. To her many critics — such as noted skeptic James Randi, whose foundation gave Caputo their annual "Pigasus" award for being the psychic performer who "fooled" the most people with the least effort in 2012 — the answer is no.
Of course, neither side can ever say they're right with 100 percent certainty, but to Caputo, it really doesn't matter anyway.
"I totally respect that there are critics, but I don't care if you believe in what I do," Caputo said. "I don't do this to make people a medium follower. I don't have a cult that I want you to join. It's for you. If you take the experience and embrace it and apply it to help your life, that's your choice."
For Caputo, the help that she now offers to grieving families only came after she helped herself. After years of suffering from severe anxiety, she said that it was only when, at the age of 28, someone explained that spirits were attempting to contact her, that she felt any relief.
"As a child, I was able to express that I was seeing and hearing these people who other people couldn't see, and everyone just went along with it, thinking I was just being a kid," Caputo said. "But when I got older I was asking friends, 'You don't see the lady standing at the end of your bed?' and they were like 'No, that's crazy.' So I started trying to block out the spirits, which led to my anxiety. I was in therapy for it, and I'd tried everything. Finally, I saw a spiritual healer who told me that it was spirits trying to communicate with me.
"Imagine (my husband) Larry being with me for 10 years and all the sudden I tell him I'm talking to dead people. But when he saw how I was finally getting better, he was like 'Yeah, hon', you keep talking to dead people.' Then he saw that people were coming into our house who were a mess, and leaving with a smile on their face, or a little pep in their step, and he said, 'Wow, this is unbelievable.' "
That turnaround from her non-believer husband is one that Caputo said she's seen repeated at her live shows.
"Even if you are a skeptic, come with an open mind and just watch the experience that people have, having their faith restored. You'll know what you're seeing."
The Long Island Medium
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: USF Sun Dome, 4800 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa
Tickets: $23 to $83; at the Sun Dome box office, by phone at (800) 745-3000, at www.ticketmaster.com