Neal E. Boyd signs an autograph on Sunday afternoon for Ryan Mitchell of Sikeston, a Southeast Missouri State University student. Boyd, who won "America's Got Talent" Oct. 1, returned to the area for a brief visit over the weekend.
"It's important to me that people don't see me as going off to Hollywood and never coming home," said Boyd. "It's important to me that they see me as much as possible."
The visit came sooner than Boyd, a tenor who won NBC's "America's Got Talent" on Oct. 1, thought it would. Following the win, he's been busy preparing for performances and other appearances. Boyd has singed a record label with Sony and also been in talks for other opportunities to enjoy a long-lasting career in the entertainment business.
"And the fun part is, it's getting more and more exciting," said Boyd. "It's all coming together at once."
The chief reason behind the visit was Southeast Missouri State University's Homecoming over the weekend. Boyd, a 2001 graduate of the school, received a Distinguished Service Award medal, rode in the parade and took part in other festivities on Saturday.
But visiting was easier said than done.
"It was like pulling teeth," said Boyd. He said that, originally, he would be overseas recording. But when plans changed "we put our foot down about this homecoming," said Boyd.
That's because he needed a break and some time at home, said Boyd. "I needed to sharpen the saw," he said.
But regardless of his hectic schedule, Boyd said he is excited about his upcoming obligations.
Songs are now being written for his first Sony album, with a scheduled mid-May release. It will include a mix of traditional opera tunes, and mainstream songs sung in an operatic manner.
Boyd said he will be recording overseas, but the location hasn't yet been determined.
Although contractual obligations prevent Boyd from putting on a Sikeston concert at this point, he and others are making plans for the tenor to show off his talent in front of a hometown audience.
"We're working on something in tandem with the CD release," said Boyd. "And that will help with the (admission) cost, too, so it won't break the bank to come out."
Boyd is just off the heels of the Las Vegas show he headlined Oct. 17, part of the prize for winning "America's Got Talent."" He said there were more than 5,000 people in the crowd -- including several friends and family members.
"It was unreal," Boyd said. "There was so much going on and people were so excited."
The show was quite "Vegasfied," said Boyd. Photos of him and other signs promoting the show were all over the MGM Grand Hotel, where the show was. Boyd said he received the same treatment as other Vegas acts such as Jimmy Buffet, Wayne Newton and Cirque du Soleil.
It's still hard for him to realize that he is gaining that star power.
Boyd said he knew being on the show, especially winning, would change his life.
"But I didn't think it would be this big," he said. "I didn't think it would be so hard to get home, get my friends on stage or backstage."
He's become quite recognizable, too. Boyd said over the weekend, he had a lot of people stop him to say hi or ask for an autograph. While at SEMO on Saturday, he estimated he signed "somewhere in the thousands" of autographs.
"And there were a lot more photos taken than autographs signed," added his girlfriend, Heather Tomko.
Tomko and Boyd have dated for just over five years. They met at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where both sang in the opera.
She, too, has grown accustomed to the new lifestyle. Tomko lives in Chicago but spends as much time with Boyd as possible.
"It's pretty busy," said Tomko. "I have to sneak into the pictures sometimes, just to make him remember I was there."
Boyd said he appreciates seeing and hearing from his fans. That's good, because piles of mail are delivered daily to his mother's Sikeston home -- with no specific address, just his name and the town.
"I love hearing about the mobilization of voters and the fans," said Boyd. "It's neat to see how some towns rallied around me, simply because I was from a small town, too."
Some letters come from as far as California and Alaska. Between the letters his mom receives, plus those at NBC and other outlets, Boyd estimated 3,000 to 4,000 letters are delivered weekly.
The hits on his Web site, nealeboyd.com, have also risen exponentially. Before the show, Boyd averaged around 220 hits a week, which rose to 31,000 after his first appearance on "America's Got Talent," and have been about 50,000 a week since he was crowned the winner.
"That's really fun for me," he said. "It's fun to just watch it grow."
And although he won't be here, Boyd's face will become a lot more prominent in Sikeston in the coming weeks.
Portraits of the tenor, which Boyd said he will autograph, will be distributed to area businesses for display. Lambert's Cafe has already agreed to hang a portrait there, and Boyd said he and his assistant will discuss this week where they will hang.
Any businesses that are interested in obtaining a portrait can e-mail : email@example.com. Contact information will also soon be added to his Web site, which also features photos, song clips and other features.