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He's no dummy

Terry Fator 'talks' his way to success

Terry Fator 'talks' his way to success

September 25, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. -- People used to ask Terry Fator all the time if he was somehow faking his ventriloquism act.

It even happened during his audition for "America's Got Talent."

"One of the (producers) said 'That's impossible. Where's the tape recorder?'" Fator recalled during a recent phone interview.

It wasn't until Fator stood two feet from him and had a puppet do a Etta James impression that the producer believed Fator wasn't cheating somehow. "They could definitely hear that that was coming out of my mouth," he said.

Fator passed the audition and went on to win the second season of "America's Got Talent" and the accompanying $1 million prize.

On Friday, he'll show off that winning talent to a sold-out audience in Shippensburg University's 1,500-seat H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center.

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The surprise part of Fator's winnings from "America's Got Talent" was a gig at Bally's in Las Vegas, but that didn't work out. The plan was for Fator to do a 10-minute bit in the middle of another show, he said.

But tens of thousands of people all over the country wanted tickets for a full-length show and the powers-that-be realized a short bit wasn't going to do, Fator said.

Instead he got a deal doing three shows a month at the Hilton for a year.

"During that I signed my big $100 million deal at The Mirage," Fator said.

"I went from being a completely unknown ... to having one of the most lucrative careers in the history of Las Vegas," Fator said.

Fator's co-stars

Fator won for looking like he was doing very little, when in fact he was not only throwing his voice so it sounded like it was coming from one of his puppets, he was not only making the puppet sing, but having the puppets imitate the likes of Garth Brooks, Roy Orbison and Etta James.

It was his puppet Emma Taylor's impression of Etta James singing "At Last," that blew away the "Talent" judges -- including actor David Hasselhoff -- who were not enthused from the moment they realized Fator was a ventriloquist.

"I knew that expectations would be low. They were thinking I was going to come out there and (do) some crappy little ventriloquism skit," Fator said.

Fator didn't hold anything back, using his best act for the first stage of the competition.

"I had to work hard to top myself week after week," Fator said. Eventually, he won with a puppet singing Roy Orbison's "Crying."

"My wife and my mother-in-law and my sister kept telling me I had to do Roy Orbison," Fator said. "The producer looked at me and said, 'You can do an impression of Roy Orbison? Why didn't you tell us before?'

"It turns out I did save the best for last."

Getting started

Fator said he was 5 or 6 years old when he started doing impressions. At age 10, he found a book in his school library about ventriloquism.

"I knew within just a few months that that was what I wanted to do with my life," he said. He had saved money to buy a $20 puppet at Sears and within about a year was earning $25 a show, performing for friends and churches.

Fator knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a good, even great ventriloquist, and was driven to make his puppets sound and look good.

He'd seen some ventriloquists perform at church or school.

"They were just terrible. I realize that most people, they look at kids and they think kids don't know or care," Fator said. "(But) they do. It really bothered me to see a really bad ventriloquist."

Fator said he mixed impressions with ventriloquism his entire career. He, not his puppet, would impersonate Michael Jackson.

"As soon as I had the puppets do impressions as singers, people went completely bonkers over the show," Fator said.

Building on his success

For Friday's show, Fator will bring back favorites, such as Winston the turtle, and introduce a couple of new puppets.

In November, his autobiography "Who's the Dummy Now?: Winner of America's Got Talent," will go on sale.

His $100 million, five-year gig with the Mirage, with an option for an additional five years, starts in February with five shows a week so he'll be moving from Dallas to Vegas.

So what's a guy to do with all that money?

"I'm going to be doing a lot of charity ... try to make the world a better place," Fator said. He's already working with Ronald McDonald House, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah.

"(And) obviously, take care of my family and find ways I can do good for the world," Fator said.

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