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Ventriloquist Terry Fator has come a long way from his humble Nevada beginnings.
Sure, it looks like Terry Fator is the closest thing to an overnight success that anyone can be in Las Vegas—especially a ventriloquist.
But Fator has performed in Nevada for years. You can be forgiven for not remembering he once played a steakhouse in the Excalibur—or even the Clark County Fair in Logandale. “I played the fair maybe six times,” says the entertainer, who settled into a five-year run at The Mirage on February 14, taking over the Danny Gans Theatre from the impressionist (who moved to Encore Las Vegas).
Three years ago, Fator finished his stint at the fair and drove to Las Vegas to “see a different headline show. I felt that I had what it took to headline here,” he recalls. He was not discouraged. “I called my wife and said, ‘Hey, I really think I’m gonna be a big deal in Las Vegas.’”
Watching Gans in particular, Fator started mentally crosschecking the list of celebrity impressions he could do. He and manager John McEntee came to their eureka moment: Fator already was a great ventriloquist, but why not have his puppets do singing impressions? “It’s what really spurred me to get serious and motivated and rewrite my show,” Fator says.
But Las Vegas entertainment buyers didn’t take Fator seriously until he steamrolled through the second season of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” in summer 2007. The first time Fator walked out on the talent show’s stage, celebrity judge David Hasselhoff shook his head and said, “Oh no, a ventriloquist.” Hasselhoff changed his tune when Fator’s cute little pigtailed girl puppet blasted out Etta James’ “At Last.” Fator never looked back, and the Las Vegas Hilton booked him, even before knowing the outcome of the TV-talent contest.
Fator says his year of monthly Hilton engagements helped him tune up for his gig at The Mirage. “If you look at what my show is compared to what it was, it’s ridiculous how much more improved it is,” he says, “and that’s because I was able to experiment with [diverse] Las Vegas audiences.
“I don’t like to do regional-type stuff anyway,” adds the Texan, whose oldest ventriloquist dummy is a cowboy puppet named Walter T. Airdale. “I’ve never been in one area. I’ve always traveled. Las Vegas is perfect for me because I’ve always had to [base] my humor [on] what people are going to get everywhere. And that’s tricky business, to come up with humor that is universal.”
Since he won “America’s Got Talent,” Fator has enjoyed revisiting West Wendover and other Nevada cities he frequented during his 13 years on the road with a country outfit called Texas the Band. “To go into all these places as a headliner, how can I possibly describe the feelings of satisfaction? After so many years of those two-drink-minimum bars, it’s incredible,” he says.
One gig Fator doesn’t miss is a brief sojourn in a country-themed steakhouse that has long since departed the Excalibur. “It was miserable,” he says. He remembers the show band being told, “We want you to stand there and play soft country music.”
He still doesn’t know why his group was hired for that one, but he has no complaints these days. It’s like he told the people at “America’s Got Talent,” even before he won: “If you’ve worked for 40 years for something, and you have any brains at all, you will sit and enjoy it and not gripe about something. You’ll sit there and drink it all in and say, ‘Man, this is great.’
“And that’s what I’m doing. I’m having the time of my life.”
Less than six months since becoming a Las Vegas Headliner, Terry Fator has produced a DVD of his hit show at The Mirage, “Terry Fator & His Cast of Thousands.” Featuring new impressions and exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, “Terry Fator: Live from Las Vegas” is perfect for any fan and the next best thing to seeing Fator live. The DVD will be available nationwide September 1, 2009.