Tears streamed down opera singer Neal E. Boyd’s face on Wednesday night as he was named the winner of the third season of “America’s Got Talent.”
“What has happened to my life?” Boyd said with a laugh after claiming the NBC summer reality show’s $1 million prize and a headlining gig in Las Vegas.
Boyd, 32, of Sikeston, Mo., came out on the positive side of what host Jerry Springer called the closest vote in the show’s brief history. He won by less than half of one percent over 26-year-old Eli Mattson, a pianist and singer whose bluesy-country style earned him many fans.
“I love you, mom,” Boyd shouted into the camera. “I love you, Sikeston. I love you, Missouri.”
Boyd’s days as an insurance salesman are officially over. The emotional singer told the judges at his first audition he wanted to make his mother proud and take one last shot at an opera career. He accomplished both.
“This competition, coming in, I didn’t think that I would make it this far,” Boyd said moments before the result was announced. “I didn’t think people would respond to opera, but they have. And I love America so much for getting me to this point.”
Violin duo Nuttin’ But Stringz, brothers Damien and Tourie Escobar, placed third. Singers Donald Braswell and “Queen” Emily David finished in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Boyd was stunned earlier in the show when the members of Il Divo, an operatic quartet that he idolizes, wished him luck in a taped message and praised him for his performance of their song, “Mama.”
“I’m sure from today on, you are starting a brilliant career,” Domingo said.
The “America’s Got Talent” finale was the culmination of a long summer TV season. The show normally wraps by the end of August, but spilled into the first day of October this year because of a three-week hiatus during NBC’s coverage of the Beijing Olympics.
Simon Cowell’s fingerprints were all over the live finale. The notorious “American Idol” judge serves as executive producer on “Talent,” but leaves the judging to others. His presence was felt, though, as the top 10 finalists took the stage together to perform Kelly Clarkson’s winning “Idol” song, “A Moment Like This.” Four-year-old singer Kaitlyn Maher, who became a fan favorite and a tiny lightning rod for controversy, opened and closed the group song with solos.
Later in the evening, Leona Lewis, another Cowell discovery from his British TV show “The X Factor,” performed her single, “Better in Time.”
Boyd closed the show with an encore performance of his new signature song, “Nessun dorma” an opera classic that translates to “None shall sleep.” After months of anticipation, Boyd will likely sleep just fine now.
Victor Balta lives in Philadelphia and is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.