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Celebrity Drive: "America's Got Talent" Winner Terry Fator

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 8/10/2015 K.S. Wang

Quick Stats: Terry Fator, Ventriloquist/Winner of "America's Got Talent"
Daily Driver: 2013 Tesla Model S (Terry's rating: 10 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: the old Route 66
Car he learned to drive in: 1970s Ford Pinto
First car bought: 1970s Buick

Terry Fator won "America's Got Talent" in 2007, which gave him the ability to buy whatever car he wanted. He chose a Lexus convertible, and he has driven various models of that brand over the years. But he says his 2013 Tesla Model S is the best car he's ever owned.

"I read Tesla had this electric car, and I was like, 'Oh wow, that sounds awesome,' " he says. "So I signed up for it. It said I was something like 50,000th in line, and I'm thinking, 'It will be two years.' That year, in December, I get an email from them that says, 'Build your Tesla Model S.' So I was able to build it, and they delivered it in January. It was less than six months after I signed up that I got my car."

Fator is so hooked on Tesla that he's now waiting for the perpetually delayed Model X. "I'm 45,000th in line for that," he says. "So hopefully, quarter four of this year or quarter one of next year would be great."

Celebrity Drive Terry Fator© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Terry Fator He likes the fact that the Models S is incredibly user-friendly. "I love my Tesla," he says. "Love it. Everything about it is streamlined. The 17-inch screen makes it fun to drive. The (acceleration) is ridiculous. There's hardly any maintenance at all. It's always connected to the Internet, so if there's a problem, it'll alert Tesla, and they contact me and say, 'Hey, we noticed that you're having a problem with this, and we're going to come out and fix it.' It's just insane."

Besides the Tesla being "sleek" and "gorgeous," Fator says the Tesla Model S is also comfortable. "Every person who has been in it has been like, 'Oh my gosh, that's the best car I've ever been in.' "

Although he did try to drive it once to Los Angeles, Fator mostly now only drives the Tesla around Las Vegas, where he headlines at the Mirage.

He said he was hoping for the also long-awaited battery-swap stations, but recent reports indicate that may not happen.

He gets about 200 miles on a charge around Vegas. "And that's not even charging the whole thing," he says. "It's a 300-mile capacity, but I keep it at about two-thirds. I only charge it at night. It is the most comfortable. The back seat has tons of room, even my 6-foot-plus friends can sit in the back seat comfortably. They have tons of legroom. It's beautiful, sleek, stylish. It's just the best car I ever had."

Fator also has a 1981 Porsche that isn't driven but that he hopes to one day restore. "It's kind of fun to talk about old cars that you've had" he says. "I just didn't realize how sentimental and how just thinking about this interview brought back such fantastic memories for me. I could not fix a car to save my life. I'm not one of those that likes to rebuild." The Porsche belonged to the father of Christian rock, Larry Norman. Fator was given the Porsche after Norman died.

When he isn't at his own show at the Mirage, Fator is often performing, so there isn't much time for the restoration. "The way Larry got it, a guy literally showed up on his doorstep one day and said, 'God told me to give you this car,' gave him the pink slip, handed him the keys, and then left," he says. "Larry was an older guy and was terrified to drive it, so he only drove it twice. It sat right outside his house for 15 years, and he never drove it." He said the seats are split and there are other signs of age.

Winning "America's Got Talent"

Once he could afford a nice car, Fator spent weeks test driving as many as he could to decide what to buy.

"When I won "America's Got Talent" and then I signed my big deal at the Mirage as a headliner in Vegas, I kind of went crazy," he says. "I always wanted nice cars. When I was a kid, we had nothing. We had just the worst cars. We would always buy really old cars. They were always breaking down. I went out and I test drove everything. I test drove BMW, Lamborghini, Corvette, and I don't know what it was, but the Lexus, for some reason I just fell in love with the Lexus."

2013 Toyota Camry hybrid

Rating: 8
When going to Los Angeles, Fator drives his other car, a Toyota Camry hybrid, which was his late sister's car (a stock image of the car is shown below). After his sister died due to complications of rheumatoid arthritis, he was initially going to get rid of the car because he didn't think he needed it.

"Then I started driving it, and I'm like, 'Wow, I don't want to get rid of this car. It's great!'" he says. "Great, smooth ride, great gas mileage. It's got all the bells and whistles. That's the one my sister wanted. She passed away since then, so I just kept it, and now that's the car we use to tool around the country if we want to make the drive."

2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid The Toyota has one thing even his Tesla doesn't offer. "You know how you have that blind spot and you're getting over and you don't even see that person next to you?" he says. "There's a yellow alert on your right and left mirror that tells you if a car is next to you, which is a fantastic feature to have, so I love it. It's very, very comfortable, and it's an incredibly smooth ride. I felt like my sister did a very good choice when she chose that car. I love that car."

Celebrity Drive Terry Fator© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Terry Fator

Car he learned to drive in

Fator grew up in Corsicana, Texas, where he learned to drive in his parents' 1970s Ford Pinto. "I was driving a stick shift Ford Pinto," he says. "It was this crazy little car, and the car was constantly breaking down."

One day the oil light came on, and Fator tried to put oil in it, not knowing where to pour it in. "I poured the oil on the manifold, thinking that I was putting oil in the car, and it was hilarious because all of a sudden it started smoking, so my sister and I drove that car home with smoke pouring out of the manifold," he says. "I told my sister, 'Keep the door open, and get ready to jump out if the car bursts into flames. So we drove home with the smoke pouring out."

Fator's dad and his brother taught him how to drive. "My dad was really adamant that I learn how to drive a stick shift," he says. "He said, 'If you can drive a stick shift, you can pretty much drive anything. If you never learn how to drive a stick shift, if you ever need to drive a stick shift, you won't be able to.'"

First car bought

The Pinto was always in the shop, so when Fator got a job as a waiter at a local steakhouse, he bought a red 1970s Buick. "It must've been about 8 to 10 years old at least because I couldn't afford anything. That's the one I drove my friends around in at 16, 17."

Fator was also performing as a ventriloquist at churches and libraries. He paid about $600 for the Buick when he was a high school senior in 1983. "It was an old, beat up car that a friend was selling at church," he says. "I don't remember what happened to it, but I drove my friends to Dallas. Dallas was about 50 miles away, and me and my friends would get in there and go to Dallas and go to concerts. That was the one we did all of our partying in."

He says when he went to college, his parents must've sold it because he doesn't remember seeing it again.

Celebrity Drive Terry Fator© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Terry Fator Fator does have one car he always remembers fondly, a 1996 Dodge Neon he bought in 1999. He even wrote a song about it. "Up to that point, it was the nicest car," he says. "It was funny because I remember it was the first almost-new car. We had always bought nothing but used, old clunkers that were fixer uppers, so my whole life all I'd ever known was these old cars."

Although it was a few years old, the Neon looked brand new. "You would have thought it was brand new because the Neons all looked exactly the same; there was no difference in the year," he says. "I was so proud of that car because it was the first car that looked new. I wrote a song called ''96 Neon' and put it on one of my albums," he says.

In 2002 he bought his first ever brand new car, a gift for his first wife, who was a huge fan of Ford Mustangs, having grown up with one in high school. "It was something she talked about very sentimentally, and it had gotten stolen and parted and destroyed, so I wanted to replace that," he says. "It was the first brand new car I ever bought. At that point I was making enough money where I could afford the down payment for it and I could afford the payments. I was super proud that I was able to do that."

Favorite road trip

Having driven across the country many times, Fator's favorite road trip was the time he and a country band he performed in drove Route 66. "I know that's a cliché answer, but my goodness," he says. "We had a tour bus, and we had to go all the way across the country, and we had a five days, and we talked about it and said, 'You know what? Why don't we just go old Route 66 and just stop anytime we see anything cool?' It was the most amazing trip. I highly recommend that if anybody has the time to do it, do it. It is amazing. The restaurants—you will find some incredible greasy-spoon type of restaurants that have fantastic food."

Fator says they would stop whenever they saw something, whether it was an old-fashioned general store or antique shop. "We would see some of the coolest things," he says. "I would never trade that, and I would love to do it again one day, just take an old-fashion Route 66 trip again. They have these amazing little bric-a-brac shops that look like they've been there since the 1940s."

They did the road trip in 1997. The band usually only took a day or two to drive to the next gig, and this trip was a fun departure because they had time to enjoy it. "We would stay at campgrounds," he says. "We would just find a KOA or something right off the road, and we would pull the tour bus in and hook it up and take showers. When the movie 'Cars' came out and it was about the old Route 66, that felt even more sentimental, to just sit there and go, 'Wow, I've done that. I've gone the entire Route 66.' So it was a cool experience. We played old country music like Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, a lot of really cool old trucking songs on the car stereo."

Celebrity Drive Terry Fator© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Terry Fator

Fator's show at the Mirage

Fator has been a headliner on the Vegas strip for almost seven years, his show at the Mirage winning several awards. Whenever there is a major news story, Fator will often write new material incorporating the news.

"It's a lot of fun," he says. "People might look at what I do and think, 'Oh my goodness, I don't want to go see a ventriloquist,' but it's truly like nothing you've ever seen. It's an all-around entertainment show."

Fator has a crash-test dummy in the show named Wrex who sings songs about cars, such as "Little Red Corvette," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," "Vehicle," and "No Particular Place to Go."

"I created him specifically because there are thousands of songs about cars out there that have been written in the last 50 years," he says. "I said, 'I don't have a character that can sing songs about cars,' so I created a crash-test dummy."

Fator also does impressions of singers and uses the puppets to do it. These include Elvis Presley, Aaron Neville, Adele, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Axl Rose, Taylor Swift, and more.

"You will just get lost in this world of impressions," he says. "It's really, really nuts how much variety there is and music and comedy. It's one of those shows that you'll leave, your sides will hurt from laughing so hard."

Celebrity Drive: "America's Got Talent" Winner Terry Fator

The show has been successful because it appeals to audiences of all ages as well as those who have different musical tastes.

To get an idea, some of his clips on YouTube have millions of hits. He's always rewriting his show to keep it interesting. "I've had people that have seen my show 11 times and have said the show has been different every time," he says. "So people can come and see me year after year after year, and they're going to see different stuff because I'm always updating it."

For more information on his shows, go to TerryFator.com.

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Celebrity Drive Terry Fator
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