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Parrot charms way to 'America's Got Talent'



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July 13, 2011 | 08:09 AM
Delavan — He's a new performer fresh out of the Lake Geneva area.

His name is Echo. And he has feathers.

The real talent here is Sarah Hoeft, also of Lake Geneva, who over the past eight years, taught Echo, a Double Yellow-headed Amazon parrot, everything he's needed to know to impress the judges of NBC-TV's "America's Got Talent."

Echo might sing, dance, mug for the camera and wave "bye-bye" when the routine is over, but it's Hoeft who feeds the cues (and crackers) and lends her left arm as Echo's stage as he makes his run at world fame and a cool $1 million as the top winner of America's Got Talent. (The Talent top prize included $1 million, payable in a financial annuity over 40 years and a show as the headliner on the Las Vegas Strip.)

It's Hoeft who did the PR thing, talking with a reporter by phone from an undisclosed location near Hollywood.

Echo, meanwhile, was chillin' at the pool with the chicks. Well, he was chillin' at the pool, anyway.

Hoeft and Echo were getting ready for their July 12 appearance on AGT.

Watch the video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp0gkjJLlVk

Joining them is Hoeft's husband, Joseph. "He's keeping me calm," she said.

Hoefte said Echo is a small parrot, only one pound and eight inches tall. But he's got big smarts and big talent.

He auditioned in Chicago for "America's Got Talent," and charmed the judges.

"We didn't expect to get as far as we did," Hoeft said. In fact, from more than 50,000 acts that started out this May, Echo is among the final 48. Not bad for a 15-year-old.

"Echo is my best talking bird. Echo is very loveable. He's a small bird. He goes along with everything," Hoeft said of her avian partner.

Hoeft grew up in Lake Geneva. She developed a great love of animals.

She first focused on her abilities with horses and mentored under the famed Ringling Bros. Circus horse trainer, John Herriott.

In 1998, she became involved with training animals and performing alongside them at Animal Gardens, home to the Dancing Horses Theater.

Next, she turned her attention to the theme park's many parrots, teaching them tricks.

"I think the horses are more difficult than the birds," said Hoeft. Horses require a certain kind of training that involves body language as well as tone of voice. And they are much heavier than birds.

The birds are more hands on. As in, you can handle them. But they're smart, too.

"It's not easy to think about how you're going to get them to do what you want them to do," she said of the birds.

"They're a lot smarter than people think they are," said Hoeft. And while they may not have a union — yet — they know their rights as performers.

"If they want to perform, they perform," Hoeft said. "If they want a day off, they take the day off."

Echo is a particularly gifted bird. He and Hoeft found their bond. They both love performing.

Echo's many talents include singing and lively banter with his trainer.

He sings four songs: "Jingle Bells," "Happy Birthday," "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." His vocabulary is extensive, with more than 50 vocalizations.

Dana Montana, owner of Animal Gardens, has called the little parrot a "feathered treasure."

Echo is no stranger to either the spotlight or television.

He regularly shares the stage at Animal Gardens with seven other performing parrots.

He and his counterparts ride bikes and scooters, paint, and play precision games.

In 2005, Echo appeared on both Animal Planet's "Pet Star" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

If Echo has any advantage in "America's Got Talent," it's that he's, yep, wait for it, a BIRD.

"He has no idea what's going on except that he's doing the show," Hoeft said. "He doesn't get scared and he doesn't get nervous."

Even when he, pardon, lays an egg, it's no big deal.

"On Vegas week we didn't do so hot," Hoeft admitted.

She said she didn't think they'd move on after that poor showing.

What probably helped was an absolutely abysmal performance that same day by a Las Vegas-based animal act.

Hoeft said in that case, Echo got by on charm alone.

"He's a singing bird. What's not to like?" she asked.

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