Thursday, March 17, 2011 | 11:57 p.m.
Life has totally changed for Terry Fator, the $100 million Mirage headliner, since he began his Strip show two years ago. His wife Melinda and he split after 18 years of marriage, and he flew to Hawaii to marry his onstage partner, Las Vegas model Taylor Makakoa. Now to mark his second anniversary, he’s won a new five-year extension to the megabucks contract.
Terry decided that as he celebrates the milestone tomorrow night, he also would change his hit show Ventriloquism in Concert. He was the $1 million winner of Season 2 of America’s Got Talent and after a short successful run here at the Las Vegas Hilton was lured to the Mirage in one of the largest paydays in Las Vegas showbiz history: a five-year, $100 million contract that will now be extended for an additional five years.
In a wide-ranging exclusive chat, the 45-year-old star who began ventriloquism in fifth grade in Dallas and is able to uncannily impersonate more than 100 celebrity voices also talked about raising a family for the first time.
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Robin Leach: Does it seem like two years already? How much has your life changed?
Terry Fator: It really does not seem like two years. It has just flown by, and my life has changed significantly. I’m still settling into the excitement of being able to perform. People ask me all the time if I still get a charge out of seeing billboards and taxis, and obviously I do. It’s still neat, but I’m also reaching the point where I’m OK that this is my life. So it’s become more of a normal thing for me. But I am loving married life -- Taylor and I are just doing great. We’ve got a great little house with dogs now.
RL: So the obvious question out of that comment is have you discussed future family plans yet?
TF: We have. We want to just have a couple of years where it’s just the two of us, and we’ll grow as a couple and grow in our love for one another. Then we’re going to start talking about having a family. But without a doubt, sooner or later, there’s going to be some kids around.
RL: Congratulations when that happens. You actually brought a family of dolls to Vegas, but who did you add while you were in Vegas? Now for the second anniversary, you’re adding a new Berry Gorgeous doll?
TF: When I came in, it was just Winston the Impersonating Turtle, Emma Taylor, Maynard Tomkins and country singer Walter T. Airedale. I believe those were the only four, and then I created Julius, which is my only black puppet. After that, I created Vikki the Cougar, then the Fifth Beatle, followed by Wrex the Crash Test Dummy. Then I created the Cher character.
However, for our second anniversary, Cher has been replaced with a new Dolly Parton character. Tomorrow, you’ll get to see all the new stuff. We completely revamped the show. It’s going to be almost all-new material. You think with Cher it was funny, it is even funnier with Dolly. We did an entire new outfit, a whole new dress, an entire new set of measurements with a brand new mask. The same guy who made the Cher mask made the one of Dolly, and it’s just totally hysterical.
Tomorrow for the first time live, we introduce our newest character Berry Fabulous. He’s the fifth created specially for our Las Vegas run at the Mirage. Our goal is I’d like every single year to have a new character that I create because that keeps my creative juices flowing. It keeps things moving along, keeps things exciting. So people can come year after year and know they’re going to see new material and new characters and new songs.
Berry Fabulous thinks the show needs more fruit and less cheese. I performed him on George Lopez for the very first time ever. I had never done any of his material in front of a crowd. It was the first time I’d been nervous in about 20 years! I was really nervous, but it actually killed. The response I’m getting from my Facebook page and MySpace and people are just telling me they love Berry. He’s quite a character and quickly becoming a favorite. The fans just love him.
RL: In a sense, it’s a tip of the hat to Liberace, yes?
TF: You know, yes it is. It’s a nod to that whole era. What he wants to do is, he’s got this new idea. Berry wants to incorporate all of the great divas and the great diva icons like Barbara Streisand and Judy Garland, but he wants to incorporate them with hip-hop. He says that he’s mixing diva and hip-hop, and it’s like a drive-by Brazilian wax.
RL: Where in your brain do you find this?
TF: I’ve had the idea for Berry Fabulous since before coming to the Mirage. I even had a guy create the character and build him for me. He’s sat in the dressing room for the last two years. He was in there from the very first time I ever opened at the Mirage. I just kept thinking he’s such a great idea, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with him. I wanted someone that would sing diva-type songs. I really wanted to get something Streisand and Garland. So I knew it had to be someone very fabulous, and that clicked, the name Berry Fabulous. I also decided it had to have a little twist. I wanted to do something different than anybody’s ever seen. Nobody has ever mixed diva and hip-hop before, so I think Berry is the first.
RL: Is the show completely changed 100 percent from when you started?
TF: Not quite 100 percent, mainly because there are a couple of songs in there that are just fan favorites that will probably always be in there. I think people would be seriously disappointed if they came to the show and didn’t hear Emma sing ‘At Last’ from America’s Got Talent. I think ‘What a Wonderful World’ will stay in for always, too. That is really all, so I’d say 98 percent different. The characters are the same, but all the routines are different, and that’s something I really pride myself on. It’s a character-driven show.
RL: Terry, having conquered the Strip and becoming an entertainment icon in Vegas, which you never imagined when you were out on the road all those lonely years, where do you want to go from here? Where do you stand with the Mirage contract?
TF: It’s a five-year deal with an option to pick it up another five. They’ve assured me that with the success that we’ve had that they want me for the extra five.
TF: Thank you. I’m just going to assume that’s it’s a 10-year deal, so I’ve got eight more years on the contract. I’m very, very happy with that, but Taylor and I have actually been working on developing a television show. We’ve even talked to the Mirage executives, and they’re interested in having us shoot the television show right there at the resort.
RL: Fabulous, as Berry would say.
TF: It is fabulous. What a great idea. We have put together a show. We’ve already pitched it to some major, major networks and talked with the heavy-hitter television executives in Hollywood. They have all just responded enthusiastically to the idea. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s going to be something that America is really, really going to embrace.
But I don’t want to miss the fun of continuing to perform in front of a live audience. That’s my first love. When it comes to my work, my first love is without a doubt performing in front of a crowd and having a crowd every night. Not having to do my show in front of one person is really nice these days.
RL: You’ll never forget that one kid who was the only member of the audience when you were out on the road struggling?
RL: It is all great these days: a contract extension and looking ahead to a TV show. What would have happened if America’s Got Talent hadn’t found you?
TF: That’s a good question. You know, I don’t know. I never gave up. I guess I would still be out there on the road performing. I would still be out there working in fairs and schools and doing those things because it paid the bills, and I got to do what I love to do. To me, it was as good as it gets. I had already kind of resigned myself to that. I had the feeling of just being content and happy, that I was one of the lucky people who got paid for what I love to do.
RL: You’ve done so much to boost ventriloquism as a solid part of the entertainment industry. In January, there was a Miss America contestant, Alyse Eady from Arkansas, whose talent was ventriloquism. Did she help the profession, as well?
TF: Without a doubt. Any time anyone can get national publicity by doing ventriloquism is great. She came out last week and performed with me at the Mirage for two nights. People really enjoyed her act. It was a lot of fun because one thing I’ve always dreamed of is being a mentor to a younger ventriloquist and people that are starting out. She was just anxious to get any advice that she could get and asked me some really, really good questions that I had a lot of fun answering. Hopefully, I helped her to continue to improve her act and get better and better. She is really young. That seems to be the new trend.
I’ve seen a number of ventriloquists do the double ventriloquism with two dolls. It’s amazing. I can do that myself, I used to do that, I used to have a double-type act when I was about 15, but I quit doing that because I would rather have, and I told her this, I would rather have 100 percent of my focus on the one character and make sure that that one character is real as opposed to trying to say, ‘Look at me, I have two.’ Instead, just make everyone believe that that one that you’re sitting with is a real character. If you’re looking for a gimmick, that’s great, but if you want to do it right, you need to focus on that one character. That’s really my advice to her. With two, you know they are dolls. With one, you really think it’s your best pal who becomes human.
RL: Do you have something special for your fans tomorrow night other than a whole new show?
TF: Everyone that comes is going to get a very cool Berry Fabulous collectible card. They will only be available for the one night. The show is still solid with sold-out audiences loving what we’re doing. I’m loving them more. I couldn’t be happier with the way things have all worked out the past two years in Vegas. You’ll be one of the first people we call when the family starts coming. You don’t have to worry about that.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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