When Terry Fator auditioned for top Las Vegas producers little more than five years ago, they told him his unusual act –– which pairs ventriloquism with celebrity impressions –– would never fly in a major showroom.
Then Fator won the second season of the NBC reality competition "America's Got Talent," and guess who's getting the last laugh now? A regular headliner in Las Vegas since 2007, Fator now occupies his own theater at The Mirage and just signed a three-year extension on his deal.
"I had been trying to bring my type of entertainment into the mainstream, and was getting shut down in every single venue," recalls Fator, who performs 8 p.m. Saturday, June 1, at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City.
"I went on 'America's Got Talent.' It put me in front of millions of people. Later that year, I did my first headlining gig in Las Vegas. Now I'm one of the top performers in Vegas."
For his A.C. show, Fator plans to feature his most famous creation, Winston the Impersonating Turtle, who was inspired by Kermit the Frog; as well as Etta James-sound alike Emma Taylor; Julius, a soul singer who once wowed Oprah Winfrey, and other favorite characters.
Each original puppet character is used by Fator to deliver uncanny impressions of everyone from Adele to Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton to Justin Bieber. But this special touring version of Fator's act won't be exactly the same as the one he performs five nights a week in Vegas.
"One thing I absolutely love to do is bring the show around the country," he says.
"I don't want people to forget I'm here. A lot of people will come to Las Vegas –– after a few years, you get out of sight, out of mind. I'm always changing the show and writing new material to keep it fresh and updated. This is a chance to bring the show to fans outside of Las Vegas and remind people of how fun the show is."
Rather than view himself as a puppet master, Fator sees his role as being that of a talk-show host with his characters as guests.
"I can promise every person who comes to the show they won't feel like they're seeing a ventriloquist show –– they're seeing real characters," he says. "Even though Winston is a turtle, you're going to forget he's a puppet –– he's just going to be Winston.
"People say, 'You can do voices, why do you use puppets?' My answer is, 'Because I can.' I'm the only person I know who can do those voices without moving my lips –– it adds a whole new level of whimsy to the show."
Another new element in the show is highly personal. In 2010, Fator married his stage assistant, Taylor Makakoa, who is Hawaiian-American.
As a tribute, his puppet character, Kani Kapila, will sing Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's acoustic version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and several other Hawaiian-style numbers, while his wife performs the traditional hula dance.
"It's something my wife inspired me to do," he says.
Having finally realized his performing dream after some decades of trying to get his act off the ground, Fator still has the occasional bad dream about getting stage fright.
"My nightmare is that I get up to perform, and I can't remember any of my songs or any of my routines, and people are getting up and leaving," he says.
Even though he's become a full-fledged headliner, the low-key Dallas native isn't one to forget where it all started. Fator has returned to "America's Got Talent" to perform during the finals, and hopes to play some kind of role in the current season, which begins on Tuesday, June 4.
"I'm by far the most successful person that's been on the show since it came on," he says. "To me, it's a wonderful, symbiotic relationship. I very much appreciate them. I'm absolutely proud I was on that show."
Sinatra's voice remains
a work in progress for Fator
Having done the voices of everyone from Bob Marley to Cher, the two Justins –– Timberlake and Bieber - and even Etta James, Terry Fator still can't get one of the biggest musical icons: the late, legendary "Chairman of the Board," Frank Sinatra, left.
"I can do Tony Bennett and Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby and a lot of voices from that era," he says. "For some reason, Frank Sinatra is very difficult."
There's hope that the ever-diligent Fator will eventually find his Sinatra in that it took him three years to master the voice of another legend –– Barbra Streisand.
Fator's diva-like puppet, Berry Fabulous, will perform Streisand's "Don't Rain on My Parade" at his A.C. show.
When he does finally get Sinatra, Fator can always assign him to his signature character, Winston the Impersonating Turtle, and main alter-ego.
"I created him for 'America's Got Talent,'" he says of Winston. "Regardless of what impression I want to do, he can do it."
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 1
WHERE: Mark G. Etess Arena, Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City
HOW MUCH: Tickets, priced at $29 and $45, are available at the Taj box office, Ticketmaster and PressofAtlanticCity.com/