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Terry Fator and his millionaire puppets wow Nevada audiences.
Photo: PR (Terry Fator at Las Vegas Hilton)
Entertainer Terry Fator is one of the newest, and most unusual, showroom headliners in the Silver State. Last fall the Las Vegas Hilton valued the singer-impressionist-ventriloquist’s worth at $1.5 million by signing him to a contract that runs through May 18. That paycheck followed his $1 million win on the NBC reality show, America’s Got Talent.
Not bad considering Fator’s first paying gig as a 10-year-old ventriloquist—at a church picnic in Richardson, Texas, on July 4, 1976—earned him $25. “Appearing in Las Vegas has been my dream since I was 15,” Fator told a sold-out Hilton crowd in October. Now 42, he seemed in awe of the hotel’s show-business legacy, ranging from Elvis to Barry Manilow. “I’ve been [performing] for so long,” he says, “but on the stage in Vegas it feels different. It feels huge.”
Fator is unique because he is not only an accomplished self-taught ventriloquist, but his 16 puppets do singing impressions—something he added to his act about two years ago. “As soon as I did that, my career took off,” Fator says.
Since then his repertoire has grown to about 100 impressions, including Garth Brooks, the Bee Gees, Kermit the Frog, Michael Jackson, Etta James, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and an amazing Roy Orbison.
Of his impressions, Fator says his turtle puppet’s take on Orbison is extremely tough to do. ‘“Crying’ is not difficult when your lips are moving,” he says, “but when I close my lips, it’s another story.”
Fator calls choosing Orbison for the final rounds of America’s Got Talent a “stroke of luck” and a collaborative effort between his wife, Melinda, his mother-in-law, Shirley Walker, and his sister, Debi. Shirley and Debi make the costumes for his puppets, including Walter T. Airedale, Johnny Vegas, Maynard (a stuttering Elvis), Emma Taylor, and Julius, the master of soul.
Duets are sprinkled throughout Fator’s show. Winston the turtle impersonates Kermit, with Fator as Armstrong, while singing “What a Wonderful World.” Johnny Vegas offers “That’s Amore” as Dean Martin and alternates with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” as Tony Bennett.
Asked how he responds when people say he has an amazing talent, Fator calls it a gift. “I can’t take credit for a gift that has been given to me,” he says. “But I am proud of the hard work, which is an ongoing process.”
Terry Fator performs at the Las Vegas Hilton on Feb. 22-24, March 28-30, April 23-25, and May 16-18. Tickets cost $49 to $149, plus tax and service charge. Check Web site for show times. lvhilton.com, 702-732-5755