Even on the drive from Phoenix back to his longtime show base at The Mirage in Las Vegas, Terry Fator finds it so easy to laugh.
Speaking Monday by phone with both hands on the wheel, Fator said all his accompanying characters “have had a bit of fame,” but Winston the Impersonating Turtle maintains his own pedestal of success, especially with his vocal rendition of the late Roy Orbison.
Fator, who in 2007, at age 42, won NBC’s second season of “America’s Got Talent,” will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at the Alabama Theatre, at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. His handheld, supporting cast includes Wrex, a crash-test dummy; Berry Fabulous, an entertainment attorney; and Maynard Tompkins, an Elvis tribute artist not known for singing.
Happy to put ventriloquism to work in all his puppets and keep this decades-old form of entertainment going for new generations, Fator said he corresponded Sunday with a finalist for “Denmark’s Got Talent.”
“He emailed me a video of his performance,” Fator said. “He’s wonderful.”
Fator also was flattered when the contestant voiced his contention that “what I’m doing” as a professional has “brought validity to ventriloquism, so people don’t look at it as just a children’s vehicle anymore.”
“It’s a genuine type of entertainment,” Fator said, thrilled for seven consecutive years in Vegas, “and it also appeals to adults. Ventriloquism has made a resurgence.”
Studying titans’ work
Although their heyday on radio and television passed before Fator’s birth, he said he grew up glued to recordings of such vocal stars and their respective dummy sidekicks as the late Edgar Bergen (with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd) and Paul Winchell (with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff), and in more recent decades, Willie Tyler and Lester.
With characters in his troupe from the opposite gender — Emma Taylor and Vikki the Cougar — Fator laughed at the reality that having a higher voice helps.
“What’s funny about it,” he said, remembering people saying “m’am” to him on the phone, “is I used to get embarrassed about it. I was in my early 20s, and I would say, ‘I’m a man,’ and I used to hate it.”
Yet, once he found his trademark in multiple voices, he concluded, “I’m glad I have a high voice.”
“When someone calls me ‘m’am,’” he said, “I say, yeah, that’s my ticket.”
Ear for Frank Caliendo
Asked what other impressionists and tribute artists entertain him the most, Fator didn’t need one second to name Frank Caliendo, who with mimicry of the likes of Jon Gruden, Mel “Todd, Todd, Todd, Todd” Kiper Jr. and John Madden, has kept a regular guest presence on ESPN and with “Mike & Mike” — Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic — weekday mornings on ESPN Radio.
“I think he might be the best speaking voice impressionist on the planet,” Fator said, grateful for a friendship built with Caliendo. “He’s so amazing.”
Rich Little remains a “legend” in Fator’s book, especially for the “great honor” of seeing Little attending his show several times in Las Vegas and “having complimented me in such wonderful ways.”
Presidential impressionwise, just as Little entertained with vocal skits as the late Ronald Reagan, and Dana Carvey found the right juncture to carve a niche in George H.W. Bush’s term, Fator views Caliendo’s take on George W. Bush “as the best by anyone.”
“Not only does he nail down the voice,” Fator said, “he has the look on his face, and it’s dead on.”
Proud to have voted for “W,” Fator said he saw him speak and was humbled by his making fun of himself and telling jokes to audience delight, and that “he is one of the warmest people I’ve known.”
Although Fator himself does not do direct speaking impressions, say of a routine with all six actors who have played James Bond, he said he has “actually considered” a skit with a medley of theme songs from the 007 movie franchise, maybe using one of Shirley Bassey’s three Bond hits, “Goldfinger,” from Sean Connery’s era.
First voices set his path
Going back to his youth, Fator said the initial voices he mastered in song comprised Donny Osmond, the Jackson 5’s Michael Jackson and Wayne Newton, who, by the way, played Bond villain Professor Joe Butcher in “Licence to Kill.”
Fator showgoers in 2015 will see “the story of my life,” a fun, “inside story” autobiography he said goes from his custodian’s work in his native Texas to headlining in Vegas.
On the idol front, Fator said he’s excited to see “Weird Al” Yankovic — whose Mandatory World Tour will stop in later June in an Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh-area run and Aug. 9 in North Charleston — in May for an extended stay on the Strip. Fator said before his “America’s Got Talent” run, he met the parody pro when he played the Los Angeles County Fair in concert.
“I’m a huge, huge Weird Al fan and always have been,” Fator said.
Calling Myrtle Beach “a great place,” Fator joins some esteemed company of Alabama Theatre guest performers who have headlined for at least two straight nights.
Bob Wood, the theater’s president, said Kenny Chesney, Jeff Foxworthy and the late George Jones all played multiple nights there, as did the building’s namesake, Alabama, which has played three nights in a row “several times.”