The winner of America’s Got Talent 2007 Season 2, ventriloquist/comedian Terry Fator, had a less than stellar childhood. However, he turned his negative childhood experience into something positive when he added puppets to his creative talents of comedy, singing and doing impressions. After winning AGT, he went on to become one of the highest paid Las Vegas resident performers of all time. We caught up with him recently to ask about what’s important to him, how his unique journey as an entertainer evolved and his growing popularity.
An Unusual Hobby
“The fact that I was a serious geek wasn’t enough of a reason for the girls to reject me. I need to go nuclear and add puppets to the mix. Actually, it was accidental. I stumbled on a book about ventriloquism in my school library, checked it out, was fascinated by it and decided to do a puppet act for the talent show that year. I kept practicing and practicing until I mastered the art of puppetry and a hobby became a career. I had done several shows for friends and family, but my first real paying public show was for my church bicentennial picnic. I got paid $25, and to an 11-year-old in 1976, $25 was a fortune, so I figured I would have my first million by the age of 13. I was only 29 years off since I won the million dollar prize for America’s Got Talent at 42.”
At Home in Texas
Even though Terry’s unique career causes him to travel, there’s no place like home in Texas. “I don’t get to visit my hometown, Dallas, as often as I would like. I have dear friends in Texas and my schedule keeps me so busy that I rarely get to go home, although I faithfully watch my Cowboys blow the playoffs every year. But I am an eternal optimist, it will only make next year’s Super Bowl win all the sweeter. Texans have a real sense of community and genuine kindness for others. I have tried to extend that Texas hospitality to my life in Vegas. I wouldn’t trade my Texas childhood for anything in the world.”
Terry has a strong desire to inspire others, and his faith plays an important role in motivating him to do just that. “My faith is the central part of my existence. I truly believe that God has called me to be an evangelist of joy, and the best way to inspire is to open my heart and life to those who need inspiration. One of the reasons I like to share my story is that my “overnight success” took 30 years and didn’t occur until I was 42. It’s why I always tell people to never give up on their dreams.”
Cherishing Personal Time
Even though Terry loves to entertain others, he cherishes his personal time. “I love to binge watch television shows (The Chosen is my favorite) and also play video games with my wife Angie. I have a brain that never stops. So many times while I am watching TV or playing video games, I am listening to an audiobook at the same time. I read three or four books a week of all types. As far as any other life-choices for my career there was never any desire to do anything but entertain. I knew from the time I was about three that I wanted to be in front of people making them laugh, so when I found ventriloquism it just stuck, although ventriloquism is only one of the ways I entertain because I also sing and do impressions. I’m truly living my dream.”
A Funny Fact
Terry shares a funny fact: “I’m an ordained minister, so I am able to perform wedding ceremonies. I have some dear friends who once asked to be married by one of my puppets. I’m making this available for folks in the public who are interested in having a fun, different and truly memorable wedding ceremony if they want it.”
Ventriloquism is gaining popularity as others try their skill. “I adore Darci Lynne and her family. Her mentor Gary Owen called me and asked me to help her through her AGT season, and I worked with her by helping write for her and coached her the entire season. I was so proud of her when she won, and to see her flourish in her other incredible acting and singing talents has been such a joy. I also performed with Ana-Maria Margean (winner of Romania’s Got Talent) in the finale of AGT All Stars and Celia Munoz (winner of Spain’s Got Talent) in the finale of last season of AGT in America. They were all mentored by Gary Owen as well, so Gary has had a profound impact on the ventriloquist community. I just love to meet and help inspire other ventriloquists. There is even a standing order to my ushers in Las Vegas that if there is a ventriloquist in the audience, I want to meet with them after my show if I’m able.”
Winston the Impersonating Turtle
Terry tells us how his puppet, Winston the Impersonating Turtle, came about and why he was created. “Winston is a perfect example of necessity being the mother of invention. I wanted to use a Kermit the Frog puppet for my AGT appearance in 2007 but we didn’t have clearance from the Muppets, so I had to create a character that could do an impersonation of Kermit. He is far and away my most popular puppet, and I adore him because he definitely won AGT for me when he did his impression of Roy Orbison singing Crying. Impersonating singers has always come very naturally for me. Ever since I was a child I was just able to hear a song and sing it like the original artist…without moving my lips. I had no idea that was a unique talent until I was close to 30 years old. It was when I added the puppets and ventriloquism when I was almost 40 that people really started to take an interest in my performances. Who knew? My favorite impression to do, though, has to be Michael Jackson. He was one of my first impressions when he was with the Jackson 5 and when the Thriller album came out I would amaze my friends and family by singing every song perfectly in Michael’s voice and inflections.”
“I’m working on my television special, and I’m also pursuing international performances. The main reason I did AGT All Stars was to get my act in front of international audiences so I can tour overseas.”
Cover Photo Tory Kooyman
Bob Valleau is a freelance writer living in McKinney, Texas.