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Terry Fator

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Terry Fator Biography

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Terry Fator Biography

Terry Fator with his character Julius.Also known as - Million Dollar Voice and the Human Jukebox
Born - June 10, 1965 (1965-06-10), Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Occupation(s) - Ventriloquist, Impressionist, Singer
Voice type(s) - Countertenor - Bass
Years active - circa 1975 – present
Website - www.terryfator.com

Terry Fator (pronounced /ˈfeɪtər/; born June 10, 1965), also known as the Human Jukebox, is a ventriloquist, impressionist, comedian, and singer from Mesquite, Texas. Fator is capable of doing over 100 ventriloquial impersonations,[1] and uses 16 different puppets in his act. He was the winner of Season 2 of America's Got Talent, and received the million dollar prize.[2] The following year, he was signed on as the headliner at The Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.[3]

Early life

Terry Fator was born June 10, 1965 in Dallas, Texas. Terry's second cousin is Chris Sligh, an American Idol season 6 finalist.[1] 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 VA. The beginning of Fator's ventriloquism career dates back to when he was in fifth grade.[1][4] While searching for a book for an assignment on Valentine's Day, he came across a book about ventriloquism[4] titled, Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit, by Paul Winchell.[5] Fator checked out the book and started learning about ventriloquism.[1] A few weeks later, Fator purchased a Willie Talk dummy from Sears[1] and soon won a $25 prize for a performance at a church picnic.[4][5]

Terry Fator with Freedom Jam in Young American Showcase.Fator got his first ventriloquism dummy when he was ten years old.[6] Throughout his childhood, Fator entertained family and friends with his ventriloquism and did impersonations of singers and actors.[1] When Fator was in sixth grade, he appeared on a popular children's show in Dallas called Peppermint Place that starred "Mr. Peppermint" Jerry Haynes. Fator was able to save his money and got his first professional ventriloquism dummy when he was eighteen.[6]

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."[6]

Band membership

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, averaging three performances per school day.

Terry Fator: Live From Las Vegas - DVD CoverIn mid 1988, he was the lead singer of a show band called 'Texas the Band'[7] when he was 20, 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.'"[8]
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," says Fator. "I had heat stroke a couple of times, almost passed out."[8]

In May 2007, before appearing on America's Got Talent, Fator was performing at a fair near Houston, Texas and the only spectator was a 12 year old boy. Discouraged, Fator contemplated pursuing another career, but his family encouraged him to hang in there. 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. But Fator says the low point of his career was when he appeared at a 1,000 seat theater and had only one customer.[4]

Terry Fator appears at the Poncan Theater in Ponca City, Oklahoma on May 6, 2008 with his character Winston the Impersonating Turtle.Fator's success stems from combining singing and ventriloquism. Fator had been the lead singer in a band and often did impersonations of singers Garth Brooks, Etta James, James Taylor and Dean Martin while ventriloquism was just a comic side gig for Fator. In 2005 Fator decided to join his two talents, ventriloquism and impersonations.[1] "I had one of my characters sing Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" and the audience went bananas," Fator says. "Boy, that was where 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."[9]

Prior to winning America's Got Talent, Fator was an opening act for Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Neal McCoy, and Styx. Fator also made corporate appearances at 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.[10]

Terry Fator with his character Johnny Vegas.On June 19, 2007, Fator made his first national appearance on America's Got Talent. Fator never dreamed that he would win the show. "Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would win that show," says Fator. "Essentially I auditioned because the guy that was the ventriloquist the first season got on ('The Late Show with) David Letterman.' ... So I figured I'd do three episodes like he did and end up on 'David Letterman.'"[11] After winning the show Fator actually had to turn the Letterman gig down four times before he could appear. "My schedule got so packed, and it broke my heart every time I had to turn him down," Fator says.[6]

When Fator first came onstage judge David Hasselhoff said "Oh, no, a ventriloquist."[10] "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.[4] 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 Osborne.[12] 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."[11]

After Fator won the $1 million prize, he bought his wife an expensive wedding ring and a dream house near Dallas, Texas.[4]

Life after America's Got Talent

Terry Fator with his character Walter T. Airedale.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.[13] 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 3 shows a month from January 2008 to May 2008. Fator also performed a 6 p.m. early family New Years Eve show on December 31, 2007. Some Barry Manilow walk-ons are in the talking stage for early 2008.

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.[14]

Terry Fator with his character Maynard Thomkins.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.[6] "As soon as I brought out Julius, she had this look on her face, wondering what I was about to do," Fator said.[6] "Once I started into Marvin Gaye, she fell out of her chair."[6]

On May 13, 2008 it was announced that Fator had signed a five year deal to perform nightly at The Mirage in Las Vegas. He will replace headliner Danny Gans and the theater will be renamed the Terry Fator Theatre. Reportedly the deal is worth an astounding $100 million with an option to extend another five years making the entire deal worth over $200 million. This would be one of the largest entertainment deals in Las Vegas history.[15]

Fator announced in July 2008 that he is 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?'"[11] Fator announced at the 2008 Bloomsburg Fair on the week of September 20-27 2008 that he has finished his book.

On September 10, 2008, Fator reappeared on America's Got Talent's 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 ABCNews Now interview, he brought a reshapened Emma Taylor to sing "At Last."[5]

Getting ventriloquism taken seriously

Fator has fought to be taken seriously as a ventriloquist but the path was made easier after the success of Jeff Dunham. "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."[10]


This is an incomplete list of the character names for the puppets that Terry Fator uses in his act.

- Walter T. Airedale - Airedale, a country singer, is the puppet that Fator has had the longest.[11]
- Winston the Impersonating Turtle - Winston was inspired by Kermit the Frog. "Originally I had a Kermit the Frog puppet and I would have (him) sing Rainbow Connection," says Fator. "When I called up the Muppets to see if they would let me do a Kermit the Frog impression (on national TV), they said I could do the impression but I could not use the Kermit puppet. Necessity is the mother of invention, so I said, OK, I'll have a turtle do an impression of a frog singing with Louis Armstrong."[11]
- Emma Taylor - "Emma Taylor is a lady who sang with me on 'America's Got Talent,'" says Fator. Fator says that Emma is his "best puppet friend." "I kind of like Emma. She's really cute," says Fator.[11]
- Maynard Thomkins - "Maynard Tompkins is an Elvis impersonator --the only impersonator in the world who does not know any Elvis songs," says Fator.[11]
- Julius - Julius is the soul singer. People are sometimes initially shocked by Julius as an African-American puppet. "Obviously, it’s going to be shocking. People look at me a little nervously," Fator said. "But when I start singing, all objections fade away and they love it." 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.".[6]
- Johnny Vegas - a lounge singer, often impersonating Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, etc.[10]
- Dougie Scott Walker - Introduced as Fator's annoying neighbor, he is a heavy metal music lover. Loves AC/DC, Guns and Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others. He partied so much at concerts he always thinks there are strobe lights flashing.
- Vicky the Cougar - a 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 24, as she revealed in an interview on Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
- The Fifth Beatle - Patterned after Paul McCartney, he was kicked out of the Beatles.

Fator is constantly creating new characters. "I've got several new ones I'm creating for the Mirage. We're going to be constantly creating new characters for the show," says Fator.[11]

Other 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.

Charitable work

In July 2007 Fator appeared in Montana to help 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.[16]

In 2007 Fator did a benefit performance for miners' families in Huntington, Utah.[4]

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.[17]

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. His acts were a repeat of the acts he made on America's Got Talent. He brought back Emma Taylor to sing "At Last" and Winston the Turtle to sing "What a Wonderful World" again. 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 Vicky The Cougar with special guests The Commodores, who joined Fator performing "Brick House".

On September 24, 2008 Fator announced at the Bloomsburg Fair that all proceeds for his song "Horses In Heaven" will go to a Research Center For Childhood Diseases.


On September 1, 2009, Fator's first DVD, Terry Fator: Live from Las Vegas(recorded during a performance at the Mirage), was released just less than a week after its debut airing on CMT (originally aired on August 28, 2009) and copies sold at Target stores include footage not shown on the CMT broadcast.


1. a b c d e f g Arnsdorff, Janice. "He’s Got Talent". http://www.cedarcreekpilot.com/features/local_story_186120320.html. Retrieved July 5, 2007.
2. Cite Error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named ep12; see Help:Cite errors.
3. Clarke, Norm. "Mirage signing 'Talent' winner". Las Vegas Review Journal. http://www.lvrj.com/news/18841474.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
4. a b c d e f g Burger, David. "Terry Fator's dummy ditties". Salt Lake City Tribune. http://www.sltrib.com/ci_8753157. Retrieved April 1, 2008.
5. a b c "ABCNews Now. "America's Human Jukebox" by Alisha Davis.". http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=5499615. Retrieved August 1, 2008.
6. a b c d e f g h Hadsall, Joe. "He's no dummy: 'America's Got Talent' winner to perform in Branson". The Joplin Globe. http://www.joplinglobe.com/enjoy/local_story_192184535.html?keyword=secondarystory. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
7. Chase, Marilyn Johnson (October 15, 1989). "Texas lights fans' fire: Admirers flock from afar to hear `uncommon' band". http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=DM&p_theme=dm&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0ED3D0A42F29F290&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM. Retrieved 2007-10-10.
8. a b Kirschenmann, Jay. "A man worth a million voices". Argus Leader. http://www.argusleader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080501/ENT/805010327/1005/ent. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
9. Wynne, Sharon Kennedy. "Ventriloquist Terry Fator's got talent". TampaBay.com. http://www.tampabay.com/features/events/article458060.ece. Retrieved April 17, 2008.
10. a b c d Belcher, Walt. "Patient Ventriloquist Proves He's No Dummy As He Turns 'Talent' Win Into Big-Time Tour". The Tampa Tribune. http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/apr/16/na-patient-ventriloquist-proves-hes-no-dummy-as-he/. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
11. a b c d e f g h Hocklander, Sony. "Look, who's talking now?". Springfield News Leader. http://www.news-leader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080710/ENTERTAINMENT01/807100304/1005/ENTERTAINMENT. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
12. Schmidt, Veronica. "Ventriloquist Terry Fator wins America's Got Talent". Times Online. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/tv_and_radio/article2307616.ece. Retrieved August 22, 2007.
13. Fator's own MySpace blog from April 23rd 2007
14. "Celebrity Friends of RMHC". McDonald's Corporation. http://www.rmhc.com/celebrity-friends/.
15. "For Terry Fator Talent opened a lot of doors". USAToday. http://www.usatoday.com/life/television/news/2008-06-16-talent-fator_N.htm.
16. Albertson, Kristi. "Kidsports field work rolls along". Daily Inter Lake. http://www.dailyinterlake.com/articles/2008/04/22/news/news02.txt. Retrieved April 21, 2008.
17. "Terry Fator to perform in Corsicana". Corsicana Daily Sun. http://www.corsicanadailysun.com/local/local_story_339235031.html. Retrieved December 5, 2007.

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