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Who's ‘Got Talent’? It's ‘puppet guy’ vs. singer

Yes, four are in the finals, but it's a race between two Texas men
/ Source: contributor

To push David Hasselhoff’s profound equine analogy closer to the photo finish, the “America’s Got Talent” finale is officially a two-horse race. (Thanks for that one, Hoff.)

Butterscotch, the 21-year-old beat-boxer, and 14-year-old aspiring country singer Julienne Irwin should be out of the running by now. With ambitious but ultimately mediocre performances last week, the women fell to the back of the pack and left the battle for the $1 million grand prize to a pair of Texans: 26-year-old funk rocker Cas Haley and 42-year-old ventriloquist — that’s right, ventriloquist — Terry Fator.

The winner of the summertime talent show will be announced during a two-hour finale extravaganza (NBC, Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET) that will feature a special performance from show judge The Hoff. (That sound you’re hearing is the entire population of Germany turning its satellite dishes toward Los Angeles).

So who should get the prize? Haley, the long-struggling guitarist who wins over America’s collective heart every time he talks about being a stay-at-home dad and wanting to win for his wife and son? Or Fator, the jolly, just-a-little-bit-weird puppetmaster who breaks America’s collective heart each time we’re reminded about the time just one person showed up to see his show?

It’s a tough call, and it’s one that depends on whether America makes a serious choice or opts to fulfill a once-in-a-lifetime dream.Terry Fator: Who's voting for the ‘puppet guy’?Fator says he wants to “bring ventriloquism back into mainstream pop culture.”

That’s a bold goal, all right — with or without moving your lips. He also says he wants to touch kids’ imaginations with his act — that’s the kind of weird part.

But Fator truly is the heartfelt pick for the $1 million, if for no other reason than this: When is a ventriloquist ever going to have a chance to rake in that kind of cash?

Haley, for all his heartwarming stories about raising his kid and wanting to make his musical dream come true, will likely get that chance anyway — especially if executive producer and music mogul Simon Cowell has anything to say about it. Haley’s a likeable guy with a great story, and could be the first act to come out of this show — win or lose — with a promising career ahead.

”Who is voting for the puppet guy?” writes an anonymous poster. “I AM, and all my friends and family as well. He can imitate Cas and whoever else that sings, but can ANYONE do what Fator does? NO. That makes him a true talent.”

There’s still a limited audience for ventriloquism — even Fator’s brand of spectacular American standards sung through his array of stuffed animals and impeccably styled dummies. It just isn’t the kind of act that fills theaters and arenas. Fator could wind up opening for the “Legends in Concert” impersonators show at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. It’d be a fine gig if he can get it, but it isn’t a million dollars.

The Texas crooner — don’t forget, it IS him singing at all times – stealthily made his move from his spot as one of the token variety acts in the competition. Fator impressed the judges and viewers more each week, topping himself every time he hit the stage. He capped it in last week’s final performance with a stirring rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” which is not an easy song for anyone to sing, let alone belting it out through tight lips while controlling the gyrations of a plush green turtle.

Fator nailed it as cameras panned children awestruck by his performance, and the crowd rose to its feet in applause — a standing ovation for a ventriloquist.

Win or lose, Terry, you’ve already reached one dream. Here’s hoping for 1 million more.

But then again, what’s not to love about singer Cas Haley?

Viewers felt for Haley from the first time judge Sharon Osbourne told him to dress better. He returned the following week beaming with pride about the new shirt his wife bought him, only for Osbourne to again ask him to dress better.

Still, for all his talk about his family and such, there’s no pity going on here. Haley is one of the few singers from either season with more to offer than a slightly above-average voice.

”Cas Haley is going to win it all, even if he doesn’t win this show,” user Matt writes. “He is more talented than anyone else left and is clearly going farther in life. Get a label to sign him and he is set.”

Haley’s ska-meets-funk sound is distinctive and he delivers it with moves that are all his own: the side-to-side waddle; the backward head tilt and big eyes that precede each big note; and the signature “zzhh” sound he uses to roll into half of his lines ( i.e., last week’s, “Wise men say — zzhhonly fools rush in”).

The point isn’t to make fun, it’s to recognize that Haley has clued viewers in on “his” moves — and eight weeks ago the audience had no idea who he was or why anyone should care. Haley entered viewers' hearts with his “family man with a guitar and a dream” story, but he managed to stay there thanks to his charisma and infectious groove.

It’s tough to argue against handing this guy $1 million, but he’s coming out a winner either way.

In the end, this split decision could go either way. And that might do just fine for most fans.

”In my mind, Terry Fator and Cas Haley are (in) a dead tie,” writes Claudia. “They are both terrific and both deserve to win. If I have to give the edge to one, I have to give it to Fator because his act is so unique and difficult to do. But, on the other hand, Haley is sooooo good and with a style of his own. I really wish they could both win the top prize, and I think they both deserve it.” Victor Balta is a writer in Philadelphia.