By Gilbert Ward Kane
Terry Fator is a ventriloquist like no other. His unique act combines ventriloquism, singing, and impressions. He uses up to 16 different puppets in his act, and they all have very unique and fun personalities. They range from a turtle to an Elvis impersonator who doesn’t know any Elvis songs. Terry won season two of America’s Got Talent and hasn’t stopped working since.
Initially, he expected only to last a few episodes and use his exposure to get better shows, but the win catapulted him into a wildly successful career. Terry has been a headliner at The Mirage on the Las Vegas strip since his win, and has just signed a contract extension. Terry is taking his show on the road and will be making a stop at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino on Friday, January 20.
His story is truly inspiring, and we got to hear it first-hand.
Coachella Valley Weekly: At what age did you know you wanted to be an entertainer?
Terry Fator: “As far back as I can possibly remember I wanted to entertain and perform. I’ve loved it since I was just a little kid. In fact, my very first memory is me standing on a table singing a song to people and just really liking that feeling I got. It was natural for me. Growing up, I knew I was going to be an entertainer. It was my calling.”
CVW: When did you start with ventriloquism and what got you interested in it?
TF: “I started when I was 10 and the thing that got me interested was I accidentally found a book on how to be a ventriloquist. It wasn’t like I planned to be a ventriloquist. It just all of a sudden happened after finding the book.”
CVW: Did combining singing with ventriloquism come natural or was it something you worked on?
TF: “It definitely came natural to me. It wasn’t something I had to think about. I already sang, and from the beginning I sang with my puppets. It was just something I always did.”
CVW: How did winning America’s Got Talent change your life?
TF: “It changed my life in every possible, conceivable way. It’s surreal how quickly it all happened. I definitely paid my dues. I spent 20 years on the road playing small festivals where they always put me next to the petting zoo. And, you know, that was kind of rough trying to play those crazy places. To go from 20 years of struggling, then boom, you’re a headliner. I can never be grateful enough for what America’s Got Talent has done for me. It just completely up-ended my life and turned it over in the most dramatic and best fashion possible.”
CVW: It seems from what you’ve said, these guys before figured, ‘Here’s this guy with puppets, let’s lump him in with the kids.’
TF: “Yes! That’s exactly what it was. I struggled with that too because I tried so hard to convey to everyone that I wasn’t a children’s entertainer. I have nothing against children, but I never had that desire to be a children’s entertainer. I always wanted to be more than that. So, it was very frustrating to me to fight that battle. I’ve always had a commitment to myself to have a family show that kids could enjoy, but I’ve never wanted to be a ‘Barney.’ I always wanted more than that. I never wanted to be a dirty or adult only entertainer either. I want to entertain everybody. But because I’m a ventriloquist, people assumed I was a children’s entertainer. What I did on America’s Got Talent was let the world know that ventriloquism is a valid art form for more than just children. Kids don’t know who Etta James is. They don’t know who Roy Orbison is. They don’t know who Tony Bennet is. So, in that sense, it really opened a door. There is something more to this. That is what attracted Vegas to me. What I do is so uniquely ‘Vegas’. A lot of these people I impersonate played Vegas back in the day. A lot of ventriloquists have tried to book Vegas, but I’m the only one to have a long term headlining residency. I’ve been there for 8 years and just signed another 5. Again, America’s Got Talent allowed me to do that, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”
CVW: Is going on the road a sort of vacation for you, or do enjoy staying close to home with the residency?
TF: “Don’t get me wrong, I love the residency, but I also love going on the road. It’s import to me to go on the road. It’s a way of giving back to the fans that maybe can’t make it to Vegas. And I do a different show on the road. You can see two different shows if you see me in Vegas and on the road. But I really do it for people who can’t travel or afford to come to Vegas. My fans are so incredibly important to me. If it wasn’t for my fans, I wouldn’t be able to do this. I wouldn’t have this life style. I’m so grateful for my fans. Going on the road is my way of giving back. I try to go all over the states and even internationally soon.”
CVW: Music translates well internationally, but I wonder how comedy will translate. You do incorporate music, so you’re ahead of the game.
TF: “When I go to non-English speaking countries, the show will be more music centric and less comedy.”
CVW: Hopefully this isn’t like choosing a favorite child, but, what is your favorite character/puppet?
TF: “No it’s not. That’s kind of silly, though I know there are ventriloquists who feel differently. They’re just puppets. Their entire existence is what I put into them. There are no feelings, so there’s no jealousy. My favorite is Winston because a turtle singing Roy Orbison is exactly why I won America’s Got Talent. I’m convinced of that. He’s kind of this childlike character who is by far the favorite of my fans. Emotionally, Walter is my favorite because he was my very first professional puppet. I got him when I was 18. He’s still in my show now. The same exact character. Any given night, my favorite to perform is different. Right now, it’s either Dougie or Maynard. Both of which will be at the show in Indio. Dougie is sort of the stoner character. (Said in character) ‘Dude. I’m like really happy to be here.’ He’s a blast. I’m telling you it’s so fun to do these characters. Then Maynard is an Elvis impersonator that doesn’t know any Elvis songs.”
CVW: That sounds so fun. Here’s this Elvis impersonator I can do anything I want with except Elvis. What a great concept.
TF: “He really is a fun character. He can sing. He does Aaron Neville songs and occasionally others, but he doesn’t know any Elvis songs. Also, it’s great when a character is inherently funny just because of their character. It makes writing for them easier.”
CVW: What is your most memorable performance?
TF: “Hand’s down, America’s got Talent. I’d have to say the very first one; singing Etta James. I’d been doing that for a while before. When I did that on the road, the audience’s jaw would drop. I knew I had something. I was incredibly shocked that I won that show. I was playing a lot of elementary schools. Even though I didn’t want to be a children’s entertainer, there’s good money in it. It was fairs and elementary schools. I didn’t have a problem performing for children, doing anti-bullying shows, but I didn’t want that to be my career. I wanted to entertain all ages. What I planned was to get on for 2 or 3 episodes and get kicked off. I could use that exposure to charge more at elementary schools. It would give me a good video showing if I had national exposure. Then I won it!”