There are comedians who do uncanny celebrity impressions of Lady Gaga or Elvis, and there are ventriloquists who dazzle with their ability to embody the voice of a puppet, and then there's Terry Fator, who combines both of these talents into a singular act.
Fator, who performs 8 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, will be bringing his cast of puppet characters, including Winston the Impersonating Turtle, Vikki "The Cougar" and country legend Walter T. Airedale, who will offer their versions of everyone from Justin Bieber and Guns N' Roses to Nat King Cole and The Beatles.
Fator, who was the first winner of NBC's "America's Got Talent" reality competition in 2007, now headlines his own show at The Mirage in Las Vegas, where he has his own theater.
Ahead of his first appearance in A.C. in three years, Fator talks about his unusual talent, his "overnight" success and his new normal of mostly being rooted in one place.
Q: How does your A.C. show compare to your Vegas act?
A: It's going to be pretty much the exact same show as in Vegas, with one exception. One puppet can't make it - (hip hop diva) Berry Fabulous. His set-up is so extensive and large, people have to come to Vegas to see it.
Q: Which came first for you - the puppetry or the impressions?
A: It all came together at the same time. I was doing little impressions when I was very young. I could always mimic things. If I was walking around Kmart with my mom and they said, "There's a blue light special," I could say it the same way. I started doing ventriloquism when I was 10. It was very interesting to seamlessly incorporate this into my act. It didn't seem like a big deal to me, because impressions came so naturally for me. I thought everybody could do it.
Q: Your material includes Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton singing, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and Louis Armstrong and Kermit the Frog performing "What a Wonderful World." How do you nail the voices?
A: I just kind of listen to a song a hundred times. I listen for every nuance and then I start singing along with it. When the song is playing, I work on the voices. It's very tedious, but it's worth it.
Q: Winston the Impersonating Turtle is your mainstay puppet - what's he up to these days?
A: He is going to talk about other auditions. He's frustrated working with me and wants to branch out. He's auditioning for possible Broadway shows - "Phantom of the Opera" and "Jersey Boys." He's still with me, but I guess that's his dream.
Q: It seemed like you became famous overnight through "America's Got Talent," but in reality you struggled for years?
A: It's absolutely unbelievable - everybody talks about me being an overnight sensation, but I started doing this when I was 10. I traveled for 20 years - 10 to 11 months a year. It was a genuine struggle. Before "America's Got Talent," they would stick me near the petting zoo or near the kids' tent. Now I come in as a headliner. It was a huge struggle, but I wouldn't trade one year of it. I'm grateful for the experiences.
Q: How is it to mostly perform in one place now and have audiences come to you?
A: I enjoy the traveling, but I'm so glad I don't have to do it all the time any more. I just can't get enough of doing my own theater in one place. I go home and sleep in my own bed. I spend time with my dogs. It's nice to have that semblance of reality and normalcy - something I've never had in my entire life.
For Terry Fator, one of the most exciting parts about becoming a headliner in Las Vegas has been meeting major stars, from Jerry Lewis and Rich Little to Ray Romano and Adam Sandler.
"It's been phenomenal - it's amazing when they come to the show," he says.
Getting to rub elbows with famous folks has made him realize how little separates a celebrity from a civilian.
"When you see them on 'Entertainment Tonight,' you get the idea there's something unusual about them, but they're really ordinary people like everyone else," he says.
However, the fan inside Fator still has a list of stars he hopes to meet, notably legendary TV actor Dick Van Dyke and comedian Martin Short, pictured right. The latter meeting is likely to happen when Short plays Fator's theater at the end of June.
"I'm trying to work out dinner with him because I love Martin Short," he says.