David Hasselhoff and Terry Fator, <EM>America's Got Talent</EM> David Hasselhoff and Terry Fator, America's Got Talent

The competition was fierce, but a puppet managed to beat the other final-four contestants to be crowned winner of NBC's America's Got Talent on Aug. 21. Ventriloquist Terry Fator went home with the $1-million prize and the title of Best New Act in America.

"I honestly did not know if America was ready to vote a ventriloquist as the No. 1 act, and I'm just so flattered and I appreciate America so much today for their votes and their support. I'm just flying, I'm elated," Fator gushed to TVGuide.com when we caught up with him the day after winning.

Fator and his team of dummies wowed the judges and viewers each week with impressions of famous singers such as Louis Armstrong and Etta James, performed through a closed mouth. In the finale he triumphed over country singer Julienne Irwin, beat-boxer Antoinette "Butterscotch" Clinton and musician Cas Haley to claim the top prize.

"The first thing I did after I found out I won was give my wife a big hug and a kiss and tell her I was going to make all my dreams for her come true," he said. Much of the prize money, though, will go towards paying for expensive rheumatoid-arthritis treatments for Fator's sister.

"Last night when she came on stage and hugged me, I said, 'You go home, you talk to your doctor, you get that treatment and you send me the bill,'" he said.

And what about the fine print that stipulates that the $1 million is actually a series of payments over 40 years, or can be taken as a significantly smaller lump sum? "I don't really know any of the details, and whatever the arrangement is will be fantastic, but I just don't care! Because really, what it was all about for me was getting America to know what I do so they would come out and see my show, and that's what I've accomplished. Getting people to see my performance is worth more than $1 million to me," he said.

Fator first got into ventriloquism when he found a book on it in his school library at age 10, and he's been working on it ever since. Two years ago his act became what it is today when his manager heard him singing along to a Garth Brooks song on the radio.

"He said, ‘You really sound like Garth Brooks — can you do that without moving your lips? You really need to get all the puppets singing impressions.' And I had never even thought about it. I had a typical ventriloquist show with jokes, but I worked on it, and sure enough, it turned out I could. And it absolutely changed my life.

"I think it was the fact that I can do the impressions and the ventriloquism at the same time that really won the hearts of the American people."

A self-described perfectionist, Fator said there are some celebrity impressions that have taken him two years to master, while others only take two days — including James Taylor, whom Fator aped for the first time ever in a duet with Kermit the Frog in the show's finale.

Next up the star will take his act back on the road as usual, performing nationwide at fairs and corporate events — but he's also slated to star in his own show at the Las Vegas Hilton on Oct. 14 and is in talks to headline at Bally's Jubilee in Las Vegas, as announced on the show.

"Who would have thought that a 42-year-old could become an overnight sensation? On America's Got Talent, that's what they do. It should be called ‘America's Dreams Come True.'"

For info on Terry Fator's upcoming performances, check out TerryFator.com.

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