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Living his dream: Boyd works to establish career

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sikeston tenor Neal E. Boyd sings after being crowned winner of the NBC show "America's Got Talent"?on Oct. 1.
(AP Photo)
SIKESTON -- When Neal E. Boyd was pronounced winner of the NBC show "America's Got Talent," quite a few doors opened. And he's working to make sure he walks through every one he can.

"This is a big moment in my life, and I don't know how long it's going to last," Boyd said. "I truly have to lay the foundation of a career."

On Oct. 1, Boyd was named the show's season three winner, earning $1 million and the chance to headline a Friday show in Las Vegas. After being under a gag order since his audition early this year, he spoke about his experience in a telephone interview last week.

Boyd said he is busy juggling rehearsals for the the Las Vegas show, which which will also feature Terry Fator, a ventriloquist and the winner of the show's previous season, show host Jerry Springer and others.

Apart from the "America's Got Talent," show, Boyd has quite a few career opportunities -- including a record deal and more shows -- in the works.

"It looks like at this moment a contract is coming to fruition and a record could be out as early as next year," he said. "It's in the works and we're 99 percent sure that its going to happen."

Despite all that, he needs as much support as possible, especially at Friday's performance.

"But I wouldn't be surprised if 1,000 people in that audience were my friends and family," said Boyd, saying several have confirmed ticket orders through him. "I've got great support from home, and also a loyal fan base."

The tenor, a 1994 Sikeston Senior High School graduate, said that he's always felt the support of the community in previous endeavors. And he was humbled by the showing after his win, as his mother, Esther Boyd, took photos of all the congratulatory signs in town.

"I wanted him to see them, and I knew he wouldn't be here to see them," said Esther Boyd. "He enjoys things like that."

Esther Boyd said she's kept all those photos, as well as clippings of Boyd's media coverage. "I've got everything gathered, but I haven't gotten around to making a scrapbook yet," she said.

Boyd said that when he heard the stories and saw the pictures, he couldn't be more proud.

"There's a reason why Sikeston just falls out of my mouth -- it's where I'm from and where I became who I am," said Boyd. In fact, one of the first things he said during the interview was "how is Sikeston?"

And although he wants to return to his hometown, Boyd said he's just not sure when that will happen. "There are a lot of things going on right now, including the potential in going overseas to perform and recording, so it's going to be awhile," he said. "It's not that I don't want to come home, it's that I can't come home.

That's tough, because he comes from a tight-knit family and is a self-proclaimed Mama's Boy. But his mother is welcome to come visit whenever she wants -- and he makes sure to talk to her at least once daily.

Esther Boyd said she understands the situation too, no matter how hard it may be. "I've got other responsibilities, and he's busy with the show," she said. "I feel that's where he needs to be right now, and I'll still be here when he gets back."

His mother was uncertain as of Thursday whether she would attend the Las Vegas show. She said other visits will depend on "where he's going to be and how much time he's going to have. But he's got commitments there with the show, and I don't want to interfere with that."

And when he isn't just busy with the show, Boyd said he plans to continue with AFLAC as an insurance salesman "regardless of whether or not I can sell on the same level."

Boyd said the company threw much support behind him -- including flying his mother, brother, sister-in-law and their four children to Los Angeles for his final singing performance on the show. In the future, said Boyd, he'd be interested in providing vocals for commercials for the company.

Esther Boyd said her son's decision to stay with AFLAC says a lot about his character. "He is very loyal to the people that have supported him," she said.

When it comes to his first album, Boyd knows what he wants. "But I want it to be a collection of things they're familiar with," he said. "I'll sing songs popular to the masses and do whatever it takes to garner that audience. But, at the same time, they're going to hear things they've never heard before."

He considers himself to be bringing back mainstream opera, in a time that people coming into the industry are focusing on hip hop or Top 40 music.

"To me, the classics are the foundation to a great voice anyway," said Boyd.

When choosing songs, Boyd said he looks for something that moves him. "I understand that if I feel the passion inside of me, they (the audience) feels it, too," he said.

Those are two of the things Boyd said he thinks contributed to his win. He said he also watched other performers and incorporated anything they did into his performance, and focused on what producer Simon Cowell said he was looking for.

"They wanted someone that could be international. What could possibly be more transcendent than opera?" said Boyd. Another thing was to have the diversity and appeal to win over the audience.

And that he did. Boyd said his fan base is evident as people recognize him while he is strolling through town.

In fact, before his big win, Boyd went to a laundromat one day and was swarmed by fans. Then, Warner Bros. executives who had recognized him drove up and invited the tenor to dinner.

And the recognition has only grown since the win.

"I walk around the city to all these different places and it's the same reaction every time," said Boyd. "And it's a little intense when people really start to recognize you."

After winning, he went to Catalina Island, about 30 minutes away from Los Angeles, to get away and to tour the area with friends.

"But there was no end to it -- you're just surrounded, surrounded, surrounded," said Boyd. "Some of my friends got annoyed by it, but I enjoy it. These are my fans that will buy my albums and allow me to continue singing for the rest of my life."

Because the last thing Boyd said he wants to do is be a one-hit wonder.

Where Boyd is now came from a lot of dreams and hard work to make them a reality. And Boyd has some advice for others with a goal like his.

'They need to realize what they truly want to do in life and what they're passionate about. I wanted to do 100 different things when I was a kid, but the one thing I was good at was singing," he said. "So once you realize what you're truly good at, you throw 100 percent into that, but keep up everything else. And invest in yourself. Research and learn about what you truly want."

On the web

For more on Neal Boyd, including music clips, photos and ticket information about upcoming shows, go to his Web site, www.nealeboyd.com