Neal E. Boyd delights audience members at weekend Poplar Bluff performance

Monday, October 19, 2009 ~ Updated 5:30 PM
Sikeston native Neal E. Boyd, who won $1 million on NBC's "America's Got Talent" in 2008, filled Rodgers Theatre with his opera singing Saturday. (Paul Davis/Daily American Republic)

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- The acoustics of Rodgers Theatre were put to the ultimate test with the colossal singing of Neal E. Boyd Saturday night.

Adding to the surrealism for local spectators who have followed his recent rise to stardom, a Japanese film crew documented the 33-year-old throughout the past weekend to provide a piece of American culture to people overseas.

Besides focusing on Boyd's talent and success for an upcoming episode of "Unbelievable," a popular series on the Fuji Television Network in Japan, producers said they were here to witness the "strong bond" between the opera singer and his mother, Esther.

"She is reserved," said Keiko Tamuro, project coordinator from Topspin Creative Corp., a Japanese production company based in New York City. "Neal is honest, humble and not pretentious."

Accompanied by dueling cameramen plus a director and promoter from Tokyo, Tamuro began conducting interviews Friday at Esther's home in Sikeston, where Boyd grew up. Visits were then made to his high school and the nationally renowned Lambert's Cafe to capture the character of Southeast Missouri, according to Boyd.

Prior to the concert on Saturday, Boyd met his fans at The Bread Company in Mansion Mall as the cameras rolled.

Sharon Johnston of Puxico, Mo., made sure she was the first in line. She purchased her ticket for the concert a day before they officially went on sale, she noted, and had plans to be at Rodgers an hour before the doors opened.

"I'm just so proud of a hometown guy that's made it big," Johnston said.

She left with an autographed copy of Boyd's debut album, "My American Dream," inscribed with: "To Sharon, all my love."

"It's overwhelming when you look in their eyes and they have tears and a smile on their face," said Boyd, explaining that he continues to find the support touching.

Coordinating the product sales at the record signing, David Thomas, the president of Thomas-York Inc. based at Fayetteville, Ark., said Boyd has an "air of dignity about him."

"I interact with hundreds of artists through Universal and he is one of the most grounded," said Thomas.

About 750 people attended the Boyd benefit at Rodgers, according to Jim Hoyt, the local pastor who spearheaded the event. Several thousand dollars from ticket sales will go toward the renovation planned for the historic theater on the corner of Broadway and Pine.

"Ever since (Boyd) won 'America's Got Talent' last year, we thought, 'We've got to have him here,' so this is a dream come true," said Valerie Richardson, president of the board that manages Rodgers. "When people heard a Japanese crew would be here, it became just as big a draw, because people are curious."

Wearing a pinstriped suit, a red tie and his signature backwards Kangol hat, Boyd got right into action, opening his set in Italian.

The audience laughed when Boyd broke to talk about his memory of winning $1 million on the NBC talent show, or lack thereof, explaining he "blacked out" after he awed the judges with his powerful tenor.

"I tend to get emotional at times," Boyd said, while wiping the tears off his cheeks after an especially intense song. He joked: "I'm glad I was able to hide that on national TV."

Warming up for a performance of "Mama," Boyd described his mother as his strength, saying she never accepted "charity," even though she had to raise two interracial sons alone.

The Japanese crew filmed intently as Esther vacated her front row seat to embrace her son on stage afterward.

A sporadic display of patriotism occurred in the crowd as individuals rose and sang along with Boyd's encore, "God Bless America," closing the show with a standing ovation.

Rodgers music coordinator Brent Davis said the theater has never housed a single voice "so loud and pure." "He didn't even need a microphone," Davis said.

Local soundman Kyle Million said his hands were in constant motion adjusting decibels to keep up with Boyd's vocal range. "He almost overdrove the system during that final moment," Million said.

"To hear him on TV and in person are two totally different experiences," said Scott Hequembourg, who was one of Boyd's fraternity brothers a decade ago at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.

Asked how this performance compared to others, Esther simply said: "It's always a special show."

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