The great ones make it look easy. There’s no way what Terry Fator does is easy, but he's such a supreme multi-tasker that he seems like he’s just, you know, doing what comes natural.
Fator, who performed Saturday night at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, is a singer, ventriloquist and impressionist who said his repertoire includes more than 200 impressions.
Fator's singing voice is funneled through a collection of puppets and, upping the degree of difficulty, he sometimes sings duets with the puppets in different voices. He alternated between Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson while performing “The Girls is Mine” and channeled Kermit the Frog and Louis Armstrong to perform “What A Wonderful World.”
Personal story: I miss my 300-disc CD changer that I used to play for hours upon end in shuffle mode. The darn thing broke and it’s not like stores are selling 300-disc CD changers nowadays. Fator is a human version of that 300-disc CD changer and, oh by the way, he sings with his mouth closed and audiences laugh out loud at his comedy material.
Fator worked his entire life to make his act look this easy. A self-taught singer and ventriloquist, he said he was 15 when he came up with the dream of being a headliner performer in Las Vegas. He was 42 when the dream came true.
Winning the TV reality competition “America’s Got Talent” 12 years ago was a life-changing experience. He said he traveled the country for 20 years prior to the big break, performing at fairs and elementary schools. He said — and you figure he was joking — that he hoped to survive two or three performances on AGT so he could raise his asking price at those elementary school gigs.
The exposure from winning AGT earned Fator the Vegas show he coveted. (He promised the Tulsa crowd they would see a different show — 25 puppets — if they catch him in Vegas.) I saw Fator for the first time since catching his Vegas show 10 years ago. He has added new wrinkles since, including song parodies, videos and a clever dose of audience participation in which he invites a man in the crowd to come up on stage and be a “human” dummy.
Fator is no dummy. Before a final song, he sat down, legs hanging off the stage, and connected with the crowd by volunteering to take questions. He knew he would get asked about someone with a similar skill set (Oklahoma’s Darcy Lynn Farmer) so he tackled the Darcy Lynn topic before he was asked. Yes, he knows her and he said he coached her during her championship run on AGT.
“She is one of the most talented people I have ever met in my life,” he said. “What a wonderful, darling little girl and what an amazing family she has.”
During the Q&A session, something an audience member shouted out reminded Fator that he used to sing at the club Tulsa City Limits with his long-ago group, Texas the Band. He said the band was signed by Warner Bros in 1991, but with a stipulation that he would have to jettison the puppets, the comedy and the impressions. “I’m out,” Fator told the label. “I refused.”
Fator, who mimicked the Bee Gees, Justin Timberlake, Elvis Presley, Ethel Merman and others during the Tulsa show, obviously can sing. He said people ask him why he uses puppets.
“The answer is because I can,” he said. “Isn’t it way more fun to have a turtle singing Roy Orbison?”
Of course it is.
Fator told a story about Jerry Lewis once showing up for one of the Vegas shows.
“It was surreal because I grew up idolizing him and watching him on television,” Fator said.
Fator said Lewis, in the middle of the show, pointed at him and said, “That man up there is a genius.”
Said Fator: “I thought, OK, it doesn’t get a lot better than that.”
Like Fator, Lewis (RIP) used to make it look easy.