News Column

'America's Got Talent' winner playing Tucson show

September 12, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 12--Terry Fator used to push a broom for a living.

He also sold video games to make ends meet -- and to get the employee discount.

And then came an improbable shot on TV's "America's Got Talent" in 2007.

There was something about a comic ventriloquist who could channel the voices of some of America's most iconic singers -- Hank Williams Sr., Lady Gaga, Garth Brooks, Etta James and Cher among them -- that mesmerized viewers.

"I think people were just fascinated and wanted to see what I was going to do next week,' said the 48-year-old Texas native.

By the end of the show, Fator had won over the judges and the fans to take the title and its $1 million prize.

Within months he went from little known entertainer to Las Vegas Strip headliner, inking a five-year, $100 million contract to play The Mirage, one of Vegas' most alluring venues.

"Never, never in a million years did I dream that I would go in the span of one year from playing fairs and small schools to headlining a show in Las Vegas," he said.

Last year, Fator ventured outside of Vegas for about 20 road shows. This year he amped up his touring, scheduling close to 40 shows including his gig at Desert Diamond Casino's Diamond Entertainment Center on Friday.

"I don't want people to forget I'm here," he said.

To not steal the thunder from his Vegas show, Fator has written a completely new one for his tour. Heavily autobiographical, it documents his rise from a kid playing with puppets to lead singer in a popular cover band to impersonating great voices of pop music. His cast of characters includes Johnny Vegas, who channels Dean Martin and Tony Bennett; Emma Taylor, who helped him win "America's Got Talent"; Maynard Thomkins, who sings country music; Winston the Impersonating Turtle, who does a mean Roy Orbison; and Vikki the Cougar, an aging lounge singer who loves Pussycat Dolls.

"If you come and see me in Tucson and then you come out to Vegas the next night, you will see a completely different show," Fator promised during a phone interview last week from Vegas, where he and his wife live what he describes as a quiet life.

This will not be the first time Fator has been on a Tucson stage. He remembers playing the Pima County Fair when he fronted Texas the Band years ago. Fator introduced his country-singing puppet Walter T. Airedale during those days, building on a love of ventriloquism that started in childhood.

"I used to have a little character when I was 11 or 12 and he was a lion puppet. And he kind of looked like a jackal so I called him Jackal Michson and had him do Michael Jackson songs," said Fator.

"When I was a kid, I would walk around Kmart imitating the blue light special announcer," he said. "I'm sure it drove my mom crazy."

He had modest success with ventriloquism and impersonating celebrities until he went to Vegas to see Danny Gans play a show at The Mirage. Gans, who died in 2009, was a master of impersonating famous vocalists from the band Chicago to Frank Sinatra and George Burns.

"I realized I could do that using my puppets," he said. Within months, his shows went from attracting a handful of people to hundreds of fans crammed in a room -- sometimes standing several people deep when all the seats were taken.

"People were fascinated. They wanted to see what puppet was going to do what impression next," he recalled.

His Vegas shows continue to fill up night after night and get rave reviews. His Tucson show is nearly sold out.

Fator credits his success to a God-given talent and to his fans.

"My fans made this happen," he said. "They got on the phone and they voted for me."

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(c)2013 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.)

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