Person of the Week: Terry Fator
Terry Fator spent decades perfecting a skill set that rarely, if ever, has been seen in the entertainment world. Since winning the $1 million top prize on the reality show 'America's Got Talent' last year, he's working harder than ever.
Before his winning run on TV, the 42-year-old Fator had a regular job doing his singing ventriloquist act at schools and would sometimes perform at fairs for free.
'I worked as much back then as I am now,' says the talkative Texas native. 'The difference was that I wasn't making hardly any money.
'I did that for 20 years. When people complain to me about the price of tickets, I say, 'You had 20 years to come see me for free.' '
Fator (pronounced FATE-er) was a virtual unknown outside Texas when he showed up for the second season of 'America's Got Talent.' As he took the stage the first time, one of the show's three judges, David Hasselhoff, lamented, 'Oh no, a ventriloquist.'
Moments later, Fator's puppet Emma Taylor launched into Etta James' classic 'At Last' and the studio audience erupted in wild applause, with Hasselhoff and fellow judge Sharon Osbourne leaping to their feet.
'You are quite brilliant,' Osbourne would tell him.
Later, Fator and puppet Winston won the show with a knockout rendition of Roy Orbison's 'Crying,' with Fator's face a motionless mask even on Orbison's legendary high notes.
New voices don't come easy
'I'm the only one that does what I do,' Fator says. 'It's one thing to be considered a top ventriloquist. It's completely separate to become a top impressionist. It's like I got struck by lightning twice.'
Fator says the voice doctor he's hired since his TV win marvels at his abilities.
'He was telling me that what I do should be physically impossible,' he says. 'I don't know how it works or why.'
Fator discovered the talent after picking up a book on ventriloquism at age 10. He often entertained family and friends with his improving skills but also developed his abilities as a musician and comic.
In his 20s, he fronted a Christian rock band that toured the country performing at schools, sometimes three a day. He later worked the Texas county fair circuit with a group called Texas the Band. He began incorporating his ventriloquist act into its shows.
The voices Fator does - and he does more than 100 - are no accident. He says he sometimes puts in 10 hours a day perfecting a new one.
'Every single time I do an impression without moving my lips, I have to work hard,' he says. 'I'm driven. I went into that show to win it. I didn't think I had a shred of a chance, but I played to win.'
Now, Fator has a regular gig at the Las Vegas Hilton, playing on Barry Manilow's nights off, he says. He's working 20 to 25 dates a month and pulling down big money from corporate accounts like Re/max and Toyota.
He says one of the ironies of his recent success involves a lifelong dream to appear on 'The Late Show With David Letterman.'
Little puppets hit big time
Since winning on 'America's Got Talent,' Letterman's people have twice invited him to be on the show. He's been unable to find the time.
As much as Fator is motivated to capitalize on his TV success he's confident his act has a timeless quality, resurrecting as it does the immortals of entertainment. And then there's the matter of the puppets. Fator admits he'd be a better impersonator if he could move his lips, but he's not about to abandon his puppet partners.
'It's so much fun for the puppets to do it,' he says. 'We have this need to believe in Santa Claus. I think that's what ventriloquism does. For an hour and a half in my show, everyone's 8 years old again.'
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 11
Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway, 503-248-4335, www.pcpa.com/tickets