Unabashedly carrying out your goals and sharing your true passion with audiences across the country can be a daunting prospect to some people. But to others, it’s a gratifying experience that allows them to finally show the importance and distinct nature of their abilities. Paul Zerdin, the recently announced winner of the 10th anniversary season of NBC’s popular reality competition series, ‘America’s Got Talent,’ relatably and humbly encompassed that later liberating desire to share his skills in ventriloquism during the show’s run this summer.
American viewers and the show’s four judges, including Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B and Howie Mandel, awarded Zerdin for his inventive and unique take on ventriloquism during the season finale on Wednesday, September 16. During the live airing from New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, the ventriloquist’s comedic characters and personalities helped earn him the top honor and recognition.
The announcement that Zerdin won the 10th season of ‘America’s Got Talent’ came after he was voted into the semifinals with fellow contestants Benton Blount, Derek Hughes, Drew Lynch, Gary Vider, Oz Pearlman, Piff the Magic Dragon, the Craig Lewis Band, the Professional Regurgitator and Uzeyer Novruzov. The live finale, which was presented by the show’s host, Nick Cannon, also featured performances by the 10 finalists, as well as such superstars as Rachel Platten, Yolanda Adams, Penn & Teller, Jeffrey Ross, and Season 9 winner Mat Franco.
As part of his prize, Zerdin will headline an exclusive engagement of ‘America’s Got Talent Live’ in Las Vegas, between October 22 and 24 in the PH Showroom at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. He will also be joined by finalists Lynch and Piff The Magic Dragon. Viewers can purchase tickets at the show’s website. www.AGTVegas.com
Zerdin further helped prove that his passion for ventriloquism is a worthy one, as he became the second ventriloquist in ‘America’s Got Talent’s history to be awarded the top honor. During the Season 10 finale, he collaborated with the show’s second season winner, Terry Fator, another ventriloquist who has continuously performed since he received the competition’s top honor in 2007. Fator, who has headlined in such venues as the Las Vegas Hilton and The Mirage Hotel & Casino, returned to the ‘America’s Got Talent’ stage to perform with Zerdin and their puppets during the Season 10 live finale.
Audiences embraced Zerdin’s continued commitment to ventriloquism, as the winner has been interested in the art of performing with his puppets since he was a child. He first began crafting shows when he was 10-years-old, as a family friend made him a puppet theater. After he was later given a book on ventriloquism that was written by the legendary Ray Alan, his hobby became an obsession, and soon a career. The British ventriloquist, who has previously performed at Royal Variety Performances and comedy festivals around the world, has constantly been breaking new ground, which has established him at the forefront of his profession.
At Radio City Music Hall, Cannon announced that the tenth season’s final two contestants were Zerdin and Lynch, a stand-up comedian who performed with two other comics, including Vider and famed celebrity roaster Jeff Ross. The day after the host revealed that Zerdin was chosen as the victor in an extremely narrow decision, the ventriloquist generously participated in a conference call to discuss the experience of winning the show.
When asked during the conference call what he was thinking as he waited for the reality show’s host to announce the final results, the ventriloquist revealed that “I thought that Drew would win it definitely. I thought he was an amazing comedian. (He has a) very lovable personality. The audience loved him in the theater and out and about in America.”
Since Zerdin thought that his fellow competitor was going to win the season, “I was preparing in my head what I would say to him before I got told to get off the stage. I was going to say to him, ‘Well done. The best man won. You’re a great act and congratulations,’” the Season 10 winner revealed. “Then when they said my name, my heart skipped a beat….It took a moment to sink in.”
While it was a highlight for Zerdin to perform with Fator during the reality competition’s finale, he revealed that another one of his personal favorite acts was his first audition for the show at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. “It stands out for me because it was the first one. I just thought, I don’t know what’s going to happen here. It could go horribly wrong, or it could go well,” the show’s winner explained.
“Luckily, it went well. I got a standing ovation from the judges and from the audience in the theater. So I thought, wow, that’s a great reaction and what a great start.” Zerdin added that reaction filled him with confidence. “I think helped me enormously to carry on and think that I could go far. But I didn’t ever think I could win it.”
Zerdin was also asked during the conference call if he was surprised to learn anything new about himself as a ventriloquist during his time in the competition. “I’ve been lucky enough to perform all over the place, all around the world doing different sorts of gigs. But no gig has ever been quite as big as Radio City…Even though I think of myself as a fairly polished and experienced performer, I still had butterflies just before I started my performance.”
But since he didn’t have much time on stage while performing on ‘America’s Got Talent,’ he realized that “You’ve got to try and make an impact and the best impression when you’re on a live TV show,” Zerdin explained. “You want to impress the judges. You want the audience at home to love what you’re doing. You want great feedback from the theater audience, as well. To try and do that in like two minutes is quite hard.” The ventriloquist then revealed that “I somehow managed to channel it into positive energy and any nervous energy hopefully went into the performance and made it better.”
But Zerdin tried not to show his nervousness when he performed with Fator during the finale. “I feel totally honored..to end up performing a spot with him on stage before the results began,” he said. “I was going on stage with Terry Fator, live from Radio City on NBC, so I had to pinch myself before I went on.”
The most recent ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner also said that “to know that I had his theater approval meant a huge amount to me…He was so lovely.” Zerdin added that they “had a very quick rehearsal beforehand. The day before, we were just talking about some ideas. I suggested a couple of things, and he really liked my ideas. He also suggested a couple of things. It was just so nice.”
Further speaking of the former show’s winner influence in the world of ventriloquism, Zerdin said that he thinks “it helps that ventriloquism is coming back. You’ve got Terry Fator, who’s a massive success story as a result of ‘America’s Got Talent.’ He has this amazing show in Vegas.” He added that people like Fator, who he feels is an incredible ventriloquist, are helping their performance style be put it on the map. The competition’s most recent winner added that he hopes he can also help try to “do something new with ventriloquism. (I would like to) try and take it to another level and do things different with it.”
Zerdin also mentioned that the opportunity to perform live at the PH Showroom at the Planet Hollywood Resort is “amazing and incredible.” He added that he’s been to Las Vegas several times, and has seen as many shows as he could, including Cirque du Soleil, Fator and David Copperfield. “I always say to people you have to just go there…It’s just unbelievable. So I’m totally blown away by the fact that I’m going to be headlining my own show at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.”
When then asked how he rehearses on his own for such prolific shows as ‘America’s Got Talent’ and his upcoming shows at the Planet Hollywood Resort in Las Vegas, he revealed that it depends on the type of show it is. But he added that he “likes to think I’m always quite match fit, because I get to perform a lot.”
The ventriloquist added that for a high profile like his final performance on ‘America’s Got Talent,’ he “wanted to show a little bit of everything that I do using techniques, comedy and also a bit of animatronics, as well…I wanted to cram it all into the one final episode, just to say this is what I do.”
Zerdin added that “There was a piece I did right at the very end where Sam, my kid character, was down by my feet in his little stroller. Then there was the old man who was in his mobility scooter, and we were having a dialogue quite quick there. That was written especially for the performance, as I wanted to show off how quickly I could do the different voices.”
The latest winner of NBC’s hit summer reality competition also noted that he has “a writing partner that I’ve written with for the last 20 years. I will come up with an idea and say I want to do a routine about it, and then he’ll write it. Then he’ll come back and I’ll say, ‘I don’t like that, but I like that.’” Zerdin added that creating new material is really a collaborative effort. They learn what works and doesn’t work when he performs his new material in front of a live audience.
Now that his material has been embraced by a national audience, Zerdin contemplated what being named the second ventriloquist winner of ‘America’s Got Talent’ means for his future career. “I’m going to find out how big the market is really. (But) the feedback has been tremendous. Terry has shown that can be very successful as a ventriloquist,” the new winner explained. But he added that he has a lot of ideas that he would like to try during his upcoming Las Vegas show. He added that the success of his initial three shows at Planet Hollywood may lead him to expanding his performance dates in the city.
Zerdin, who has been in the entertainment business for 25 years, added that he also has a lot of ideas for television specials and shows. One of his concepts is a sitcom that he has been working on for quite some time, which may finally come to fruition because of his exposure on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ The show “gives you such amazing exposure. You have to really capitalize on it….It’s a massive opportunity, and these opportunities don’t come around that often,” he also said.
While he was the popular choice on ‘America’s Got Talent,’ Zerdin explained that people who aren’t familiar with his work would be interested in seeing his Las Vegas show because “I’m a one man stand up muppety sitcom. The comedy comes from my relationship between myself and the puppet characters.” He further explained that “There seems to be more of a reason based on the character, including its age and personality. I’ve got a baby, a prepubescent kid and an old man.” He feels they’re all characters that people can relate to, because they know someone in their own lives who’s the same age of each puppet.
Zerdin also noted that his puppets aren’t based on anyone in particular. “But there are characteristics that have been borrowed by certain people I know. I have a 5-year-old nephew…He just got to the age where I started as a magician. So I’ve started introducing him to magic…I’ve got him into puppets, as well, so he gives me a lot of inspiration.”
The ventriloquist added that his “father is slowly turning into my old man character, Albert. My dad is losing his hearing, so he totally mishears things all the time. He also says the funniest things. So that gives me enormous inspiration for material for Albert.”
When then asked if he ever plans to add more puppets to his routine, especially for his upcoming show in Las Vegas, Zerdin admitted that he is “working on a new character at the moment, but I don’t want to say too much about it. It takes me quite a long time to come up with a new character.”
One of Zerdin’s signature characters, the boy Sam, has been a part of his routine for about 20 years. “It’s taken a long time to get his character, as well as the baby and the old man, right,” he explained. “I’m not one of these ventriloquists that wants to have loads of puppets. For me, I’d rather have just a few really well defined characters that I can really play with and explore.” The ventriloquist added that “Once you’ve gotten to know the character, it’s much easier to write for them. So I want to make them as real as possible.” He also revealed that he’s working on another character, but didn’t want to give too much information about it yet.
Since Las Vegas is known as being a top tourist destination for adults, and ‘America’s Got Talent’ is a family-friendly show, Zerdin said that he thinks NBC will want his show at Planet Hollywood to appeal to the reality television show’s audience. “It might be slightly cheekier than anything you would have seen on TV. There were certain things I wanted to do on television, but because of certain legal reasons, you’re not allowed to say those things. But I would hope that (the live Las Vegas show) will be a little bit naughtier (than the television show). But not, obviously, too rude.
Zerdin added that while he has a script, every show he performs is different. “I keep adding to the show. The more you tour, the more you can work in new material. So I think the more you work, the fresher the material is, because you’re constantly putting in new things.” While he’s not a ventriloquist who performs a lot of topical material, he affirms that he “will always keep the show fresh.”
The acclaimed ventriloquist added that the audience’s reaction and their interaction with him and each other can also alter a performance. That’s especially true “when I’m using people from the audience to be part of the show…it gives me the opportunity to adlib and to improvise, which I love doing.”
With performing on ‘America’s Got Talent’ being a difficult process, Zerdin explained one of the most challenging parts was “deciding the best bits of material to use on the show, because you don’t get very long. Having toured for some years and performing for a long time, I’ve got a fair amount of material.” The ventriloquist added that contestants want to “go out and do their best material, and make an impact. (They want to) get through each week to show that (they) can get to the finals.”
The latest competition winner also advised future potential contestant that they should “save some of your material, so that you don’t peak too soon. If you do, by the time you find yourself getting into the semifinals or the final, you’re like, ‘What have I got left?’ You’ve still got to pull something else out of the bag.
Zerdin also advised those who are interested in auditioning for next summer’s 11th season of ‘America’s Got Talent’ to not be afraid. “You must absolutely go for it…If you want to go all the way, and you think you can, just pace yourself…Think about what you’re going to do.
The ventriloquist added that he wanted to reach out to everyone who supported his work on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ Of the audience voting for him, Zerdin said “I’m indebted, really, and I’m so happy. I thank everybody who voted for me. I hope I will do them proud on my show in (Las) Vegas.” He added that he’s “shown tastes of my act throughout ‘America’s Got Talent.’” He also said that if his fans “see the full show, I think people will love it. It’s an honor to be able to perform here in this amazing country. I really thank the people from the bottom of my heart.”
Check out photos from the ‘America’s Got Talent’ Season 10 finale, live from Radio City Music Hall, below.
Written by: Karen Benardello