Darci Farmer is just like most 11-year-old Oklahoma girls.
She goes to school, makes good grades, plays with her friends, does her homework, takes dance lessons and, oh, and she also has very special talent.
She's an accomplished ventriloquist and vocalist who will perform on national television March 27.
Darci and her puppet Katie the Cowgirl will perform on NBC's "Little Big Shots" series at 7 p.m. March 27 on NBC. The series, which has been called a cross between "Kids Say the Darndest Things" and "America's Got Talent" for performers ages 3-14, was picked up for a second season after only two episodes.
This family-friendly show, co-executive produced by Ellen DeGeneres and Steve Harvey and hosted by Harvey, is not a competition series but rather a showcase of gifted young performers from around the world.
For Darci, it's another chance to show a skill she became interested in three years ago while competing in a Cinderella pageant.
"I won that pageant with a girl from Texas and she did ventriloquism," said Darci, a fifth-grader at Deer Creek Intermediate School in Edmond, in a phone interview.
"We would travel around the United States and perform. I watched her so many times. I thought it was fascinating and really, really wanted to try it. She gave me advice on how to use certain words and tips so my mouth didn't move."
Darci said she practiced over and over in front of a mirror and kept asking her mother for her very own puppet but the answer was always no.
"When she first started, after seeing Laryssa (Bonacquisti) perform, she became fascinated with it,” said Misty Farmer, Darci's mother. "She would go in bathroom to practice and come out and do Laryssa's entire routine. She kept wanting a puppet. I would say, "No, you're a singer and not a ventriloquist."
Mind you, Darci had already been performing Broadway songs and winning pageants since she was 6 and training 20 hours a week to become an elite gymnast. She was even invited to train at legendary Olympic gymnastic coach Bela Karolyi’s ranch in Huntsville, Texas.
"I said we can't take on one more thing," said Farmer."But I thought it might be fun if she had a puppet to play with around the house so I went on eBay, got the cheapest puppet I could find and surprised her on her 10th birthday.”
One month later, Darci entered and won the 2014 Edmond's Got Talent, then Oklahoma's Got Talent and was named Oklahoma Entertainer of the Year. But the puppet her mom bought wouldn't work for serious competition.
“She had blonde yarn hair, blue eyes and she was really hard to manipulate and move around,” said Darci.
“So I had won some money and we designed a new puppet with a friend that my coach, Gary (Owens), knows and they made me a girl — Katie with red hair, brown eyes and she wears a little denim outfit. She's a cowgirl.”
The preteen has given up gymnastics so she has more time for her friends and sharpening her ventriloquism skills like learning to yodel while keeping her mouth closed. She also takes ballet and guitar lessons and does musical theater. But music and ventriloquism are her favorites, she said, because it's “a lot more fun” than gymnastics.
“I like talking to my puppets,” said Darci. “And I love performing for people and making them happy.”
She is also being coached by award-winning Oklahoma ventriloquist Gary Owens, who heard about the talented child from a couple at church.
“She's 10 years old and she's won Edmond's Got Talent, beat out other kids and adults, can yodel without moving her mouth and she's self-taught," said Owens, who has worked as a ventriloquist for 30 years. “...When I saw her video, I contacted her parents and said 'I want to meet with you and mentor your daughter.’ She is a natural....”
The youngster will not only be on the television show but she will also be the first child to ever perform in a nighttime showcase on stage during the annual Ventriloquism Convention in June in Las Vegas, said Owens.
Darci's ultimate goal, she said, is win "America's Got Talent" like professional ventriloquist Terry Fator, work as a ventriloquist and "go on Broadway someday."
She got to spend 45 minutes backstage with Fator when he performed in Tulsa last fall. He gave her a few tips on doing impersonations with a puppet.
Next up, she and Owens will perform at the World Championship Cow Chip Throwing Contest in April in Beaver, Oklahoma, and then she will be honored at school.
"I was talking to one of the assistant principals, Miss Richards, and she asked me if one of the honor assemblies could recognize me for 'Little Big Shots,' " said Darci, admitting she doesn't do ventriloquism at school because it could get her in trouble. "I said 'yes.' ”
The straight-A student has a duck puppet named Okie who impersonates Elvis Presley and sings “Blue Suede Shoes," "Hound Dog" and "Devil in Disguise," she said. Okie is one of five puppets she owns, including Katie, Petunia the shy rabbit who sings opera, a bird named Nigel and a fox named Scarlett. She said she is working on singing "Ave Maria" without moving her mouth.
So, how was it working with TV star Steve Harvey on the taped episode of the TV show?
"He was really funny," she said. "He made it really fun for all the kids. I had to teach him a few tips."
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