Last night (Sept. 20), Darci Lynne Farmer won season 12 of America’s Got Talent, becoming one of the three youngest contestants to win the competition. And while she may be the youngest ventriloquist to be crowned AGT champ, she’s actually not the only singing ventriloquist who has won the million dollars and Las Vegas show. Ten years ago, Terry Fator was the first to tackle the challenging feat of combining humorous performances with singing ventriloquism.
His interest in ventriloquism started when he found a book on ventriloquism in the library when he was 10 years old. Before being on the show’s second season, he had over 20 years of experience and opened for country stars like Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks, but wasn’t quite gaining as much attention for his talents. At the time, famed comedic ventriloquist Jeff Dunahm was thriving, but there was still a lack of ventriloquist acts in major talent search shows. Before the show, he almost gave up on being a ventriloquist. In an interview with The Tampa Tribune in 2008, he confessed that he thought that he “wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen.”
Fator’s goal for America’s Got Talent was to bring a new interest in ventriloquism. In his audition, he recalls seeing judge David Hasselhoff sigh and say “Oh, no, a ventriloquist.” As soon as he begins singing using Emma Taylor, a character who impersonates female singers, Hasselhoff quickly changed his opinion, jumping up from his seat with his mouth agape. After finishing the performance, Hasselhoff asks if “Emma” wants to sing one more song, and she says she wants to sing Ashlee Simpson, mimicking her infamous SNL lip syncing. The joke brought out a enthusiastic response from the audience, showing his early potential to win.
With the help of his diverse range of characters, as well as his extensive talents that include impersonations and singing, he won over the judges until the end. For his final performance, he brought out one of his most memorable characters, Winston the Impersonating Turtle, who covered Roy Orbison’s emotional ballad “Crying” while dressed like the singer.
A decade after his win, he is happy to pass on the torch to Farmer, sharing the stage last night in a ventriloquy duet with the young winner and voicing his support on Twitter.
— Terry Fator (@terryfator) September 20, 2017
— Terry Fator (@terryfator) September 21, 2017