As the winner of the second season of America’s Got Talent, ventriloquist and singing impressionist Terry Fator captured the hearts and funny bones of millions of viewers. After, he catapulted his notoriety into one of the biggest Las Vegas deals in history—a five-year deal at the Mirage worth nearly $110 million.
Once the initial contract was over, the resort signed him again and again, and Fator has been performing regularly in what is now called the Terry Fator Theatre for almost a decade.
“Even in my wildest dreams, I didn’t expect a deal like this to come along,” he says. “It wasn’t long before this that I was performing at people’s homes or just doing a set in a small venue. Never did I think that something like this would come along.”
Of course, Fator credits his menagerie of “puppet friends” with helping him get to such a place. Be it Winston, the impersonating turtle; Emma Taylor, the little girl with the big voice; or lounge singer Monty Carlo, the ventriloquist knows the audiences’ love for his characters is what has propelled him to career heights.
“I’m coming up on my 10th year at the Mirage and every year I add characters and try to do something relevant to what’s going on,” he says. “For instance, when David Bowie passed away, I always wanted to do something with Bowie and Bing Crosby coming together, and I already had Bing in my Christmas show, so I invented a Bowie puppet so they could sing ‘Little Drummer Boy.’ I let inspiration decide what I am going to be creating.”
Although he comes up with the ideas, he admits he’s no craftsman so he hired what he considers to be the best of the best puppet makers to help his friends come to life.
“Most of my puppets are made by the same people who work for the Muppets, and that’s the pinnacle,” Fator says. “Steve Axtell is one of the top in the world, and he does more of the latex. Then there’s Chance Wolf who is new to the business and his stuff is incredible. I find the top talent and the best.”
On September 6, Fator and his puppet friends will be coming to the MGM National Harbor, where the audience can expect his trademark impressions, storytelling, singing and maybe even a little dancing.
“I have a lot of new stuff. I’m always updating and changing characters and routines, so even if someone has seen me before, it’s going to be a different show this time around,” Fator says. “One of the most characters I do now in my Vegas show that I just started bringing on the road is my Donald Trump.”
While this might seem a bit dicey in the DC area, Fator shies away from politics and just has fun with the character.
“Whether you love him or hate him, you will leave not knowing what side of the aisle I am on,” he says. “He’s a big character. I don’t make fun, I have fun. You’re guaranteed to laugh.”
Fator first learned the art of ventriloquism as a fifth grader after checking out a book on the subject from his school library. Not long after, he won first prize at a church picnic for his first live ventriloquism act.
Last year’s America’s Got Talent winner was 12-year-old Darci Lynne, a young ventriloquist who Fator helped mentor on her journey to the top prize.
“It’s very important for me to inspire the next generation. To me, the greatest compliment I can have is to one day be watching someone on television and they say ‘my inspiration was Terry Fator.’ I feel that keeps your legacy alive,” Fator says. “I think of Edgar Bergen, who died in the 1970s, but I was inspired by him and he lives on. I feel it’s a big role of any ventriloquist to keep the art alive.”
In addition to Bergen, Fator was inspired by people like Willie Tyler, Jeff Dunham and Shari Lewis, and one of his absolute favorites was Jay Johnson, who played Chuck on the adult comedy Soap, who was never without his puppet, the wisecracking Bob in any scene.
“I was too young to watch because of the adult themes, but anytime Chuck and Bob would come on, my parents would call me into the room and I could watch, but then after it was over, I had to leave,” Fator says. “Jay is a great among greats and one of the best ventriloquists to ever be, so what a great one to inspire me at such a young age.”
At his show, Fator honors the military and first responders, and donates the profits from any merchandise sales to the Terry Fator Foundation, which supports numerous military and first responder charities. In fact, he was recently awarded the prestigious Bob Hope Award due to his continued excellence in supporting the nation’s military.
“It’s a very inspirational show and when people leave, they are going to feel on top of the world,” he says. “I just want to take people away from their problems and issues and just let them laugh and feel better about themselves.”
Terry Fator will perform at the MGM National Harbor 8 p.m., Thursday, September 6. Tickets start at $17. For more information click here.
MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; 301-971-5000; www.mgmnationalharbor.com