Terry Fator

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Terry Fator
Comedian Terry Fator on stage.jpg
Fator in Las Vegas, Nevada, 2009
Birth nameTerry Wayne Fator
Born (1965-06-10) June 10, 1965 (age 55)
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
MediumStand up, television
Alma materLiberty University
Years active1975–present
GenresVentriloquism, impressionist, character comedy, musical comedy
  • Melinda Fator
    (m. 1991; div. 2010)
  • Taylor Makakoa
    (m. 2010; div. 2015)
  • Angie Fiore
    (m. 2015)

Terry Wayne Fator (/ˈftər/; born June 10, 1965) is an American ventriloquist, impressionist, stand-up comedian, and singer from Dallas, Texas. Fator does ventriloquial impersonations, and uses 15 different puppets in his act. He was the winner of season two of America's Got Talent, and received the million dollar prize.[1] The following year, he was signed on as the headliner at the Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada with a five-year, $100 million contract.[2]

Early life[edit]

Terry Wayne Fator was born June 10, 1965, in Dallas, Texas, the son of Jephtha Wesley and Edith Marie Clifton,[3] later known as Marie Sligh.[4] He has an older brother, Jephtha Jr.,[5] and a younger sister, Deborah.[6] Fator's second cousin is Chris Sligh, an American Idol season six finalist.[4] 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, Virginia. The beginning of Fator's ventriloquism career dates back to when he was in fifth grade.[4][7] While searching for a book for an assignment on Valentine's Day, he came across a book about ventriloquism[7] titled, Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit, by Paul Winchell.[8] Fator checked out the book and started learning about ventriloquism.[4] A few weeks later, Fator purchased a Willie Talk dummy from Sears[4] and soon won a $25 prize for a performance at a church picnic.[7][8]

Fator got his first ventriloquism dummy when he was ten years old.[9] Throughout his childhood, Fator entertained family and friends with his ventriloquism and did impersonations of singers and actors.[4] Fator's mother saved up her money for three years and bought him his first puppet when he was 18 years old.[10]

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."[9]

Band membership[edit]

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 and Canada, averaging three performances per school day. In mid-1988, he was the lead singer of a show band called 'Texas the Band'[11] when he was 23, 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.'"[12]

Combining singing and ventriloquism[edit]

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," related Fator. "I had heat stroke a couple of times, almost passed out."[12]

The low point of his career, Fator said, was when he appeared at a 1,000-seat theater and had only one person in the audience.[7] Discouraged, Fator contemplated pursuing another career, but his family encouraged him to continue. 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.

Fator's success stems from combining singing, ventriloquism, and comedy.[13] Fator was the lead singer in bands and often did impersonations of singers Garth Brooks, Etta James, James Taylor and Dean Martin, while ventriloquism had been just a comic side gig for him. In 2005, Fator decided to combine his talents, singing, ventriloquism, comedy, and impersonations.[4] "I had one of my characters sing Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" and the audience went crazy," Fator said. "Boy, that was when 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,"[14]

Prior to winning America's Got Talent, Fator opened for Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Neal McCoy, and Styx. Fator also performed for corporate giants General Motors and AT&T.

Success on America's Got Talent[edit]

Fator at the Poncan Theatre in Ponca City, Oklahoma on May 6, 2008 with Winston the Impersonating Turtle
Fator with Johnny Vegas
Fator with Walter T. Airedale

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.[15]

On June 19, 2007, Fator made his first national appearance on America's Got Talent. Speaking on the experience, he said, "Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would win that show ... Essentially I auditioned because the guy that was the ventriloquist the first season got on Late Show with David Letterman... So I figured I'd do three episodes like he did and end up on 'David Letterman'."[16] After winning the show, Fator actually had to turn the Letterman gig down fourteen times before his schedule was clear so he could appear. "My schedule got so packed, and it broke my heart every time I had to turn him down," Fator says.[9]

When Fator first came onstage, judge David Hasselhoff said, "Oh, no, a ventriloquist."[15] "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.[7] 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 Osbourne.[17] 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."[16]


Week Song choice Original artist Puppet Result
"At Last" Etta James Emma Taylor Advanced
Vegas Verdicts N/A N/A N/A Advanced
Top 20
Group 2
"What a Wonderful World"
(Kermit the Frog
Louis Armstrong Winston the Turtle Safe
Top 10 "Unforgettable" Nat King Cole Emma Taylor Safe
Top 8 "That's Amore"
"I Left My Heart in San Francisco"
Dean Martin
Tony Bennett
Johnny Vegas Safe
Top 4
Judges' Choice
Contestant's Choice
"Friends in Low Places"
Garth Brooks
Roy Orbison
Walter T Airedale
Winston the Turtle
Finale "You've Got a Friend" James Taylor Johnny Vegas
Kermit the Frog

Life after America's Got Talent[edit]

It was announced on the show that in conjunction with winning, he was to appear at the Jubilee Theatre at Bally's Las Vegas. 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.[citation needed] Fator performed at Christian rock legend Larry Norman's 60th birthday party in April 2007.[18] 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[citation needed].

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 three shows a month from January 2008 to May 2008. Fator also performed a 6 p.m. early family New Year's Eve show on December 31, 2007.

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.[19]

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.[9] "As soon as I brought out Julius, she had this look on her face, wondering what I was about to do," Fator said.[9] "Once I started into Marvin Gaye, she fell out of her chair."[9]

On May 13, 2008 it was announced that Fator had signed a five-year, $100 million contract to perform nightly at The Mirage on the Las Vegas Strip.[20] He replaced headliner Danny Gans and the theater was renamed the Terry Fator Theatre. Reportedly, Fator's deal is one of the largest entertainment deals in Las Vegas history.[21]

Fator announced in July 2008 that he was 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?'"[16] Fator announced at the 2008 Bloomsburg Fair on the week of September 20–27, 2008 that he finished his book.

On September 10, 2008, Fator reappeared on America's Got Talents 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 ABC News Now interview, he brought a reshaped Emma Taylor to sing "At Last."[8]

Also, on September 14, 2011, he was invited once again to perform as a guest on the Finals of America's Got Talent. This time he brought Julius, the soul singer, that performed "Ain't No Sunshine".

In 2013, he voiced a character on the Disney Channel show Mickey Mouse.

On May 30, 2013, Fator celebrated his 1,000th show at The Mirage Hotel & Casino.

On September 11, 2013, Fator returned to perform as a guest on America's Got Talent during the Top 12 results show.

On September 16, 2015, Fator made a guest appearance on America's Got Talent during the finals show, performing alongside eventual tenth-season winner and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin.

On September 20, 2017, Fator made another guest appearance during the twelfth-season finale, performing alongside eventual winner Darci Lynne, another singing ventriloquist.

Getting ventriloquism taken seriously[edit]

Fator has fought to be taken seriously as a ventriloquist. "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."[15]


This is a list of character names for the puppets that Fator uses during his shows at The Mirage:

  • Winston the Impersonating Turtle – Fator's main puppet. A talking turtle who can do impressions; designed by Paul Andrejco and built by Puppet Heap.
  • Walter T. Airdale – A country singer.
  • Emma Taylor – A little girl who sings and does impressions of female singers (mostly Etta James, for example); designed by Paul Andrejco and built by Puppet Heap.
  • Maynard Thompkins – The world's most famous Elvis impersonator who does not know any songs by Elvis.
  • Julius – A soul singer; people are sometimes initially shocked by Julius as an African-American puppet; designed by Lauren Attinello and built by Puppet Heap.
  • Monte Carlo (formerly known as Johnny Vegas) – A lounge singer; often impersonating Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, etc.
  • Duggie Scott Walker – Introduced as Fator's annoying neighbor, he is a heavy metal music lover; loves AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others; partied so much at concerts he always thinks there are strobe lights flashing; designed by Paul Andrejco and built by Puppet Heap.
  • Vikki the Cougar – A (perpetual) 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 25, as she revealed in an interview for Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV; built by Axtell Expressions.
  • Hyphen - The 5th member of The Beatles until he got kicked out and decided to go solo.
  • Wrex the Crash Test Dummy – A crash test dummy that sings automobile-themed songs; designed by Paul Andrejco and built by Puppet Heap.
  • Barry Fabulous - Terry's attorney.
  • Rusty the Robot - The Mirage's prototype robot, designed to do the jobs of any or all employees.
  • Fernando V. Francisco - A lover of beautiful women and beautiful songs, if Julio Iglesias and the Most Interesting Man in the World had a child it would be Fernando.
  • Kani Kapila - A popular Hawaiian singer.

In recent years, Fator has created numerous puppets based on real performers:

  • Bing Crosby - based on multimedia star Bing Crosby.
  • Donald Trump - based on billionaire and 45th President of the United States Donald Trump.
  • David Bowie - based on singer-songwriter David Bowie.
  • Elton John - based on singer and pianist Elton John.
  • Michael Jackson - based on The King of Pop: singer and dancer Michael Jackson; designed by Chance Wolf and built by Wolf VENTS.
  • Paul McCartney - based on one of the members of the popular band, "The Beatles."
  • Justin Bieber - based on Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Bieber; designed by Chance Wolf and built by Wolf VENTS.
  • Dean Martin - based on The King of Cool: singer and comedian Dean Martin.
  • Sammy Davis Jr. - based on The Candy Man: singer and dancer Sammy Davis Jr.; designed by Chance Wolf and built by Wolf VENTS.
  • Willie Nelson - based on country music singer Willie Nelson; designed by Manfred Werner and built by Werner Puppets.
  • Stevie Wonder - based on soul, pop and R&B legend Stevie Wonder; designed by Manfred Werner and built by Werner Puppets.
  • Frank Sinatra - based on the highly popular and influential artist Frank Sinatra (upcoming); designed by Manfred Werner and built by Werner Puppets.

Fator is consistently creating new characters.

Other characters[edit]

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.

Personal life[edit]

Fator was the lead singer of a local band called Texas The Band during the late-1980s through 2001, and met his first wife, Melinda, after she began to follow the band extensively. They married on January 8, 1991. Melinda left Terry in January 2009 and returned to Texas from Las Vegas where they had recently moved. She filed for divorce in February 2009 in Texas. Terry married Taylor Makakoa (who, identified in the closing credits as "Taylor Dew", appears on Terry's DVD as his on-stage assistant) in Las Vegas. They had a wedding ceremony in Hawaii on November 7, 2010. After 4 years of marriage Terry and Taylor divorced. In April 2015 Terry was performing for a charity event in Corsicana TX and his sister Debi Beard had hired a caterer with the intention of hiring to set Terry up with Angela Fiore. Angie and Terry began to date and Terry proposed to Angie Fiore on stage [22] in 2015. [23] and subsequently married Angie Fiore a few months later in November 2015.

Charitable work[edit]

In July 2007 Fator appeared in Montana to 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.[24]

In 2007 Fator performed a benefit for families of miners in Huntington, Utah.[7]

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.[25]

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.[citation needed] He brought back Emma Taylor to sing "At Last" and Winston the Turtle to sing "What a Wonderful World".[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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 Vikki The Cougar with special guests The Commodores, who joined Fator performing "Brick House".

In 2010, Fator did a doodle for a charity celebrity doodle auction for Neurofibromatosis, more commonly known as NF. 100% of the profit from all the doodles went to help families with NF.

All proceeds from Fator's original song "Horses in Heaven" go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.[26]


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


  1. ^ "Results". America's Got Talent. Season 2. Episode 12. 2007-08-21.
  2. ^ Clarke, Norm. "Mirage signing 'Talent' winner". Las Vegas Review Journal. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
  3. ^ "Terry Wayne Fator". Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997, via FamilySearch.org. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Arnsdorff, Janice. "He's Got Talent". Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved July 5, 2007.
  5. ^ "Jephtha Wesley Jr. Fator". Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997, via FamilySearch.org. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  6. ^ "Deborah Yvonne Fator". Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997, via FamilySearch.org. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Burger, David. "Terry Fator's dummy ditties". Salt Lake City Tribune. Retrieved April 1, 2008.
  8. ^ a b c "ABCNews Now. "America's Human Jukebox" by Alisha Davis". Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Hadsall, Joe. "He's no dummy: 'America's Got Talent' winner to perform in Branson". The Joplin Globe. Archived from the original on December 4, 2008. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  10. ^ Fator, Terry (2008). Who's the dummy now?. [Sydney]: New Holland Publishers Pty Ltd. ISBN 9781741107289.
  11. ^ Chase, Marilyn Johnson (October 15, 1989). "Texas lights fans' fire: Admirers flock from afar to hear 'uncommon' band". Dalas News. Retrieved 2007-10-10.
  12. ^ a b Kirschenmann, Jay. "A man worth a million voices". Argus Leader. Retrieved May 1, 2008.[dead link]
  13. ^ "Terry Fator turns most unhip showbiz gig into $100-million career". tampabay.com. Archived from the original on 2011-09-13. Retrieved 2012-03-10.
  14. ^ Wynne, Sharon Kennedy. "Ventriloquist Terry Fator's got talent". TampaBay.com. Archived from the original on December 4, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2008.
  15. ^ a b c Belcher, Walt. "Patient Ventriloquist Proves He's No Dummy As He Turns 'Talent' Win Into Big-Time Tour". The Tampa Tribune. Archived from the original on April 20, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  16. ^ a b c Hocklander, Sony. "Look, who's talking now?". Springfield News Leader. Archived from the original on March 29, 2014. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  17. ^ Schmidt, Veronica (August 22, 2007). "Ventriloquist Terry Fator wins America's Got Talent". London: Times Online. Retrieved August 22, 2007.
  18. ^ Fator's MySpace blog, April 23, 2007
  19. ^ "Celebrity Friends of RMHC". McDonald's Corporation. Archived from the original on 2008-06-28.
  20. ^ "Reserved – Trakk.com". www.lasvegashotels.com.
  21. ^ Strauss, Gary (June 16, 2008). "For Terry Fator Talent opened a lot of doors". USAToday. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
  22. ^ "Terry Fator Proposes To Angie Fiore". Youtube. Terry Fator - Youtube Channel. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  23. ^ Weatherford, Mike. "Terry Fator and wife-stage partner to divorce". Las Vegas Review Journal. Las Vegas Review Journal. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  24. ^ Albertson, Kristi. "Kidsports field work rolls along". Daily Inter Lake. Archived from the original on July 26, 2018. Retrieved April 21, 2008.
  25. ^ "Terry Fator to perform in Corsicana". Corsicana Daily Sun. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2007.
  26. ^ Rypka, Marsala (November 2009). "Up Close and Personal". Luxury Las Vegas. Archived from the original on 20 August 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2011.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Bianca Ryan
America's Got Talent winner
Season 2 (Summer 2007)
Succeeded by
Neal E. Boyd