Who didn't try to imitate someone bigger than themselves when they were younger? And perhaps at the same time imagine their name in lights?
After 32 years of hard work and what he described as “tens of thousands of hours in rehearsals” creating a repertoire of more than 100 voices, Terry Fator not only carved a name for himself but for his colorful cast of 40 puppets. His singing, comedy and celebrity impressions went on to capture a nation’s heart in 2007, when he was voted the million-dollar prize winner on Season 2 of NBC-TV’s “America’s Got Talent.” Coupled with the prize was a headliner show on the Vegas Strip. Nearly five years later, “Terry Fator: The VOICE of Entertainment” is going strong at The Mirage Hotel & Casino, where he marked the 1,000th show this year.
Fator, 48, gets a chance to share his life story with the Lehigh Valley on Nov. 17 at 8 p.m., when he appears at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center, 77 Sands Blvd. He’s been balancing his travels in between his Vegas schedule of four to five nights a week. On the Vegas stage, he’s assisted by his wife, Hawaiian cover model Taylor Makakoa, 25, who he met through his work.
“This (travel) show is a tribute to my fans,” said Fator, adding that it’s “totally different” from the one in Vegas. “It describes how I went from being a janitor to a headliner. It helps the audience to understand what it was like. It will be a fun trip for them, one that will be inspiring.”
Fator said his travels provide him the opportunity to stay connected with fans and not become “lost” with shows only in Vegas. He said he doesn’t believe in being offensive on stage and describes his act as “family-friendly” as he shares the stage with his famous puppet characters like Winston, The Impersonating Turtle and Emma Taylor, The Little Girl with the Big Voice. The more he shares in this interview, the more his zest for life is evident in his voice which, by the way, has a five-octave range.
“I love life,” Fator continued. “And I want people at my show to have a wonderful time and leave loving life and feeling inspired.”
He said he still watches “America’s Got Talent” each year, “as a winner and as a fan.” He revisited the show and this season’s semifinalists on the stage of Radio City Music Hall in New York City in a guest appearance. As for his own winning, he called it “surreal” and said he was “blown away to be in the top four. I didn’t expect it. My only motivation (in entering the competition) was to charge more for the shows I was doing.”
The origin of those shows took root when Fator was 8 and doing impressions of comedian Bill Cosby. He was imitating the singing voices of Wayne Newton, Michael Jackson and Donny Osmond. By age 12, he got his first paying gig. Teaching himself ventriloquism by reading the book, “Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit” by Paul Winchell (Jerry Mahoney), he added puppets to his act while mastering the art of vocalizing without moving his lips.
Fator said he would practice his impressions while working for his family’s cleaning business. He lasted only a year at Liberty University before “rebelling” and moving on as lead vocalist for a local band, singing each song as the original artist and honing his skills as an impressionist. Gigs at county fairs led to school performances and corporate events. A trip to Vegas in 2005 had him envisioning billboards with his name. Believe it or not, top producers who saw his act at Vegas conventions told him he wasn’t Vegas material.
But Fator wasn’t willing to give up. He was encouraged to audition for “America’s Got Talent,” and did so with his puppet, Emma Taylor, and her impression of Etta James singing “At Last.” His life changed forever when he made the top four, with Winston, The Impersonating Turtle singing Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Appearances on “The Today Show,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Late Show with David Letterman” led to the signing of a multi-year contract in 2008 for his very own act in his very own theater at Vegas’ Mirage. He released “Who’s the Dummy Now?” a candid autobiography chronicling his story and his overnight success, in addition to DVDs relating to his act.
What’s it like for a celebrity to experience his or her impression? Fator said he gets emails from the stars. Etta James, who has since passed away, sent him a kind message, and Roy Orbison’s wife said she was “so happy” to have her late husband’s memory kept alive.
Is any voice a challenge for Fator? He said he’s been working on Frank Sinatra. And how does he prepare vocally for the various music genres transmitted through still lips? Fator said he constantly has to keep in shape with vocal warm-ups. With Etta James, it was hard to hit the high notes. He said his most difficult voice to master, taking about three years, was that of Barbra Streisand. She has yet to catch his Vegas act but has promised him she would when she visits.
Fator’s advice to auditioners? “Make sure you go in prepared. Don’t hold anything back. Don’t hold the best you have. You have to blow everybody away, get that one good performance under your belt. Do the best you have.”
All this – and without moving his lips!
Footnote: “America’s Got Talent Live” nationwide tour with Season 8 winner, mime artist Kenichi Ebina, rolls into the Sands Bethlehem Event Center on Nov. 13 at 8 p.m.
It’s Unity in Our Community on Saturday when Genesius Theatre in Reading attempts to set the Guinness Book of World Record for the most people in a chorus line. At least 1,700 participants are needed to break the current record of 1,628 participants.
The Unity in the Community event for the longest chorus line takes place outdoors on the site of the original Genesius Theatre, 711 Penn St. (future site of the Doubletree Hotel), directly across from the Santander Arena. At 2 p.m., Y102 Radio will air an original song written for the occasion as the record attempt is made.
For those who can make it, a chorus line dance rehearsal will be held Friday from 7 to 8 p.m., at Dance Centers, 2237 Howard Blvd., Mt. Penn. Monies raised will go to nonprofit organizations of choice and to Genesius Theatre so the venue may continue to bring quality productions to the community. Genesius Theatre was founded in 1971 by Jane Simmon Miller, whose dream was to have a theater group where young people could participate, learn and grow in every aspect of show production.
For further info: Liz McCauley at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also on Saturday, the Reading Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Constantine, kicks off its 101st subscription series with two world-class soloists plus a local premiere at 8 p.m., at the Santander Performing Arts Center. David Kim, violin and Jonathan Carney, viola, will perform Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” They come to the Reading stage as concertmasters of the Philadelphia and Baltimore symphonies, respectively. The last time Kim and Carney performed together was 28 years ago. The program also includes Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 8.”
A local premiere, “Hosannas of the Second Heaven,” will be performed by the Reading Symphony Orchestra from Theodore Wiprud, a composer who grew up going to the Reading concerts. Wiprud is currently vice president of education at the New York Philharmonic in New York City.