Ventriloquist/impressionist Terry Fator wowed the judges of “America's Got Talent” in summer 2007, winning the NBC series' $1 million prize with puppet renditions of famous songs by Etta James and Roy Orbison.
And that was only the beginning.
The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas recently announced a five-year, $100 million deal with Fator that will have him taking over the Danny Gans Theatre in February and performing 48 weeks a year.
“I say it's a dream come true, but I don't think in my wildest dreams I could've fathomed it would have happened. I've dreamed since I was 15 years old of headlining in Vegas,” says Fator, who is on a tour that stops at Belk Theater Friday. “I assumed I would end up off the strip at a smaller casino, and work my way up. It's pretty mind-boggling.”
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Fator and his wife will move into a condo in Vegas next month.
“We went house hunting yesterday,” he told the Observer last week. “(Vegas) is not just the bright lights and the gambling. There actually is a nice little community here, and I'm happy. Come February, the biggest thing for me is that after traveling for almost 25 years, this will be the first time in my adult life that I'm going to have a regular job, where I get to sleep in my own bed.”
The 43-year-old Texas native, who began doing impressions at age 5, worked as a ventriloquist for 15 years. His two talents came together in 2001 after his manager suggested he have a puppet impersonate Garth Brooks.
The impressions became the focus of his act about three years ago, and now his puppets (his lineup includes Emma Taylor, Cowboy Walter, and Winston the Impersonating Turtle) belt out soundalike renditions of songs by Cher, Etta James, Louis Armstrong, Kermit the Frog, James Taylor, and many other legends. He says he'll probably add Bette Midler to the 2009 show.
“It's very difficult,” he says of projecting a singing voice from a closed mouth. “To do an impression of a singer is easier, but it's so much more fascinating when it's a puppet. My voice doctor has told me he can't for the life of him figure out how I do it. The tones I make through the crack in my mouth should be physically impossible.
“I thought once I got on ‘America's Got Talent,' a whole bunch of copycats would pop up. I was wrong. You can't just decide to be a ventriloquist/impressionist. It's like being struck by lightning twice. It's why I got such an amazing contract at the Mirage. It raises your value if you can do something other people can't.”
Fator also will release his autobiography, “Who's the Dummy Now?” on Oct. 27.
“I wrote every word. They offered a ghost writer, (but) if I'm going to do a book, it needs to come from me,'” he says. “(The title) is a reference to my dad, and all the kids that used to make fun of me. My father never believed in me and always felt I would be a failure. I just flat wouldn't let him be right about that.”