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Terry Wayne Fator (; born June 10, 1965) is a ventriloquist, impressionist, comedian, and singer from Dallas, Texas. Fator does ventriloquial impersonations, and uses 15 different puppets in his act. He was the winner of season two of America's Got Talent, and received the million dollar prize. The following year, he was signed on as the headliner at The Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada with a five-year, $100 million contract.
Terry Wayne Fator was born June 10, 1965, in Dallas, Texas, the son of Jephtha Wesley and Edith Marie Clifton, later known as Marie Sligh. He has an older brother, Jephtha Jr., and a younger sister, Deborah. Fator's second cousin is Chris Sligh, an American Idol season six finalist. Terry Fator says in his audio commentary of Terry Fator: Live from Las Vegas (2009) that he went to college at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The beginning of Fator's ventriloquism career dates back to when he was in fifth grade. While searching for a book for an assignment on Valentine's Day, he came across a book about ventriloquism titled, Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit, by Paul Winchell. Fator checked out the book and started learning about ventriloquism. A few weeks later, Fator purchased a Willie Talk dummy from Sears and soon won a $25 prize for a performance at a church picnic.Fator got his first ventriloquism dummy when he was ten years old. Throughout his childhood, Fator entertained family and friends with his ventriloquism and did impersonations of singers and actors. Fator's mother saved up her money for three years and bought him his first puppet when he was 18 years old.Fator says he found he had the ability to impersonate singers by practicing ventriloquism while driving his car. "One of the reasons I learned how to sing as a ventriloquist was because I like singing in the car," Fator says. "I'd see other people singing in the car, and they looked goofy, so I'd do it without moving my lips."
Fator got his start touring as the lead singer of a band called "Freedom Jam" in 1987-88, produced by Young American Showcase. They performed at over 200 high schools and middle schools across the United States and Canada, averaging three performances per school day.
In mid-1988, he was the lead singer of a show band called 'Texas the Band' when he was 23, and incorporated his puppet Walter T. Airedale into his shows. Fator's band at one point was about to sign with a major record label and one of the label's representatives came to hear the band. Fator sang the songs impersonating the original vocalists. "He told me 'you gotta stop doing those impressions,' and wanted me to sing in my own voice," Fator says. "I tried it for a few weeks, and absolutely hated it. We told the record company 'no thanks.'"
Combining singing and ventriloquism
Fator left the band and did a solo act combining comedy and ventriloquism but for many years had little success. "Fairs would stick me on a little stage in the back of fair and have me do three shows in the hottest part of the afternoon," related Fator. "I had heat stroke a couple of times, almost passed out."The low point of his career, Fator said, was when he appeared at a 1,000 seat theater and had only one person in the audience. Discouraged, Fator contemplated pursuing another career, but his family encouraged him to continue. Terry entered the America's Got Talent competition with the hope that the exposure if he made it to the Top 20 might help his career and cause people to want to attend his shows.
Fator's success stems from combining singing, ventriloquism, and comedy. Fator was the lead singer in bands and often did impersonations of singers Garth Brooks, Etta James, James Taylor and Dean Martin, while ventriloquism had been just a comic side gig for him. In 2005, Fator decided to combine his talents, singing, ventriloquism, comedy, and impersonations. "I had one of my characters sing Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" and the audience went crazy," Fator said. "Boy, that was when my life changed." After his initial success Fator revamped his act. "It took me six months and I completely rewrote the show," says Fator. "It was then that people really noticed and I started getting standing ovations at the end of every show,"Prior to winning America's Got Talent, Fator opened for Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Neal McCoy, and Styx. Fator also performed for corporate giants General Motors and AT&T.
Success on America's Got Talent
Before appearing on America's Got Talent, Fator had almost given up on achieving success in show business as a ventriloquist. "It wasn't easy trying to keep going all these years, and by the time I was in my late 30s, I wasn't sure it was ever going to happen," says Fator.On June 19, 2007, Fator made his first national appearance on America's Got Talent. Speaking on the experience, he said, "Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would win that show ... Essentially I auditioned because the guy that was the ventriloquist the first season got on Late Show with David Letterman... So I figured I'd do three episodes like he did and end up on 'David Letterman'." After winning the show, Fator actually had to turn the Letterman gig down fourteen times before his schedule was clear so he could appear. "My schedule got so packed, and it broke my heart every time I had to turn him down," Fator says.When Fator first came onstage, judge David Hasselhoff said, "Oh, no, a ventriloquist." "I was thinking, there's no way I would win," Fator says. "I gave myself zero percent [chance]." The judges, Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne and David Hasselhoff loved Fator and he won the competition. Judge Piers Morgan told Fator "You're a great impersonator, a great singer and a great comedian." "You put a twist on the whole being a ventriloquist thing," added Judge Sharon Osbourne. Even Simon Cowell approved. "Simon Cowell said I was one of the top two entertainers on the planet," says Fator. "And getting a compliment from Simon Cowell, well, not many people get a compliment like that."
Life after America's Got Talent
It was announced on the show that in conjunction with winning, he was to appear at the Jubilee Theatre at Bally's. However, the spots were only going to be 15 minutes long, and in complete mutual cooperation with his management team and Bally's, the plan was dropped. Fator performed at Christian rock legend Larry Norman's 60th birthday party in April 2007. Later Fator flew Larry to tapings of America's Got Talent and also to his debut show at the Las Vegas Hilton as an honored guest. Norman told friends shortly before his death that it was one of the most fun years of his life.
On October 14 and 15, 2007, after winning America's Got Talent, Fator took the stage of the Las Vegas Hilton (formerly the International, the same stage that Elvis Presley performed on for many years). Both shows were sold out to standing room only. Another show was added for December 3 to satisfy the demand for tickets.
In early December 2007, Fator signed a contract for $1.5 million with the Las Vegas Hilton to do three shows a month from January 2008 to May 2008. Fator also performed a 6 p.m. early family New Year's Eve show on December 31, 2007.
In 2007, Fator became an official supporter of Ronald McDonald House Charities and is a member of their celebrity board, called the Friends of RMHC.On March 17, 2008, Fator appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show along with American Idol Judge Simon Cowell. To the amazement of Oprah, Cowell referred to Fator as one of the "two most talented people on the planet." Fator performed with three of his dummies; country singer Walter T. Airedale performed a Garth Brooks song and Winston the impersonating Turtle sang a Bee Gees song. Julius performed a Marvin Gaye song; Julius was a favorite when he appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. "As soon as I brought out Julius, she had this look on her face, wondering what I was about to do," Fator said. "Once I started into Marvin Gaye, she fell out of her chair."On May 13, 2008 it was announced that Fator had signed a five-year, $100 million contract to perform nightly at The Mirage on the Las Vegas Strip. He replaced headliner Danny Gans and the theater was renamed the Terry Fator Theatre. Reportedly, Fator's deal is one of the largest entertainment deals in Las Vegas history.Fator announced in July 2008 that he was at work on a book. "I never thought in my whole life I would write a whole book. It's called 'Who's the Dummy Now?'" Fator announced at the 2008 Bloomsburg Fair on the week of September 20–27, 2008 that he finished his book.
On September 10, 2008, Fator reappeared on America's Got Talents Top Twenty Results Show as a guest. He brought back a larger Winston the Impersonating Turtle to sing Marvin Gaye's song, "Let's Get It On." Maynard Thomkins was also brought on to sing "Viva Las Vegas". Winston was not the only puppet that was reconfigured; on an August 1, 2008 ABC News Now interview, he brought a reshaped Emma Taylor to sing "At Last."Also, on September 14, 2011, he was invited once again to perform as a guest on the Finals of America's Got Talent. This time he brought Julius, the soul singer, that performed "Ain't No Sunshine".
In 2013, he voiced a character on the Disney Channel show Mickey Mouse.
On May 30, 2013, Fator celebrated his 1,000th show at The Mirage Hotel & Casino.
On September 11, 2013, Fator returned to perform as a guest on America's Got Talent during the Top 12 results show.
On September 16, 2015, Fator made a guest appearance on America's Got Talent during the finals show, performing alongside eventual tenth-season winner and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin.
On September 20, 2017, Fator made another guest appearance during the twelfth-season finale, performing alongside eventual winner Darci Lynne Farmer, another singing ventriloquist.
Getting ventriloquism taken seriously
Fator has fought to be taken seriously as a ventriloquist. "There have been so few good, successful ventriloquists – Edgar Bergen in the 1940s and Paul Winchell in the 1960s were respected and successful," says Fator. "And in the 1970s, I used to watch Willie Tyler and his Lester as well as Jay Johnson and Bob. But over the years, there have been so many bad ventriloquists - and most of them doing corny shows for children - that people began to think of us as a bad joke."
This is an incomplete list of the character names for the puppets that Fator uses.
Winston the Impersonating Turtle – Fator's main puppet. A talking turtle who can do impressions.
Walter T. Airdale – A country singer.
Emma Taylor – A little girl who sings and does impressions of female singers (mostly Etta James, for example).
Maynard Thompkins – The world's most famous Elvis impersonator who does not know any songs by Elvis.
Julius – A soul singer; people are sometimes initially shocked by Julius as an African-American puppet. Designed by Lauren Attinello and was built by Puppet Heap in Hoboken, NJ.
Monte Carlo (formerly known as Johnny Vegas) – A lounge singer; often impersonating Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, etc.
Duggie Scott Walker – Introduced as Fator's annoying neighbor, he is a heavy metal music lover; loves AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others; partied so much at concerts he always thinks there are strobe lights flashing; designed by Paul Andrejco and was built by Puppet Heap
Vikki the Cougar – A (perpetual) 49-year-old female singer, singing songs from the Pussycat Dolls as an example; as her name implies, she prefers dating younger men, between the ages of 21 and 25, as she revealed in an interview for Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV built by Axtell Expressions
Hyphen - The 5th member of The Beatles until he got kicked out and decided to go solo.
Wrex the Crash Test Dummy – A crash test dummy that sings automobile-themed songs; designed by Paul Andrejco and built by Puppet Heap
Barry Fabulous - Terry's attorney.
Rusty the Robot - The Mirage's new prototype robot, designed to do the jobs of any or all employees.
Donald Trump - The 45th President of the United States. The puppet is based on billionaire and 45th President of the United States Donald Trump.
Elton John - An English singer. The puppet is based on singer and pianist Elton John.
Michael Jackson - The King of Pop. The puppet is based on singer and dancer Michael Jackson. Performs a duet with another puppet Paul McCartney of "The Girl is Mine."
Paul McCartney - Member of the popular band, "The Beatles." Performs a duet with another puppet Michael Jackson of "The Girl is Mine."Fator is consistently creating new characters.
Fator has often impersonated singers himself alongside his puppets and/or volunteers from the audience. Michael Jackson has been a regular figure Fator impersonates alongside his Walter T. Airedale puppet. Fator also has incorporated audience members into his act via a remote-control mask. A volunteer wears the mask and the remote allows Fator to move the mask's mouth with Fator providing all of the conversation and singing. Fator usually dresses the volunteer as Cher and performs the duet "I Got You, Babe" with Fator as Sonny Bono.
Fator was the lead singer of a local band called Texas The Band during the late-1980s through 2001, and met his first wife, Melinda, after she began to follow the band extensively. They married on January 8, 1991. Prior to landing his show in Las Vegas, Terry and his wife bought a home he deemed his "dream house". Melinda left Terry in January 2009 and returned to Texas from Las Vegas where they had recently moved. She filed for divorce in February 2009 in Texas. Almost a year-and-a-half into the divorce, she then filed a second time in Nevada in 2010. After almost two years, a settlement was reached in November 2010. On November 3, 2010, one day after the divorce was finalized, Terry married Taylor Makakoa (who, identified in the closing credits as "Taylor Dew", appears on Terry's DVD as his on-stage assistant) in Las Vegas. They had a wedding ceremony in Hawaii on November 7, 2010. Terry proposed to Angie Fiore on stage in front of then wife Taylor Makakoa. Terry divorced Makakoa in late August 2015 and subsequently married Angie Fiore the next week on September 4, 2015.
In July 2007 Fator appeared in Montana to raise funds for the Kidsports Sports Complex in Kalispell and said he wanted to come back in 2008 to do another show. "We thought, we bet he wants to, but we bet he won't have time," said Nancy Manning of Rotary Club of Kalispell. "He made time because it's so important to him." All proceeds from Fator's show went towards the field.In 2007 Fator performed a benefit for families of miners in Huntington, Utah.In 2008, Fator performed at the Palace Theatre in Corsicana, Texas. Proceeds benefited the Navarro Council of the Arts and the Mildred Drama Club. Fator is a native of Corsicana.On September 3, 2007, Fator made a special appearance in the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, thanking the crowd for the support. He brought back Emma Taylor to sing "At Last" and Winston the Turtle to sing "What a Wonderful World". He returned to the Telethon on September 1, 2008 and brought Julius to sing "Only You" from The Platters, Marvin Gaye's song, "Let's Get It On," and "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley. Maynard Thomkins was also brought on to sing "Viva Las Vegas" to finish the show. Fator made his 3rd consecutive telethon appearance (this time via satellite from his showroom during a performance of his show) on September 6, 2009 with puppets The Fifth Beatle and Vikki The Cougar with special guests The Commodores, who joined Fator performing "Brick House".
In 2010, Fator did a doodle for a charity celebrity doodle auction for Neurofibromatosis, more commonly known as NF. 100% of the profit from all the doodles went to help families with NF.
All proceeds from Fator's original song "Horses in Heaven" go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
On September 1, 2009, Fator's first DVD, Terry Fator: Live from Las Vegas (recorded during a performance at the Mirage), was released shortly after its August 28, 2009 debut airing on CMT. Copies sold at Target stores include footage not shown on the CMT broadcast.
NBC's America's Got Talent
Terry Fator's website