A million dollars richer, Skinner a humble Kentuckian

At the beginning of the summer, Kevin Skinner had his guitar and his songs, but a million dollars and a gig in Vegas were hard to imagine. Today, things are different.

"I fit into that slot, man, where a lot of Americans do: just a working-class guy and trying to do whatever it takes to get by, kind of like everybody else," the Mayfield resident said Thursday afternoon, after his big win on TV's America's Got Talent Wednesday night. "I kind of feel like I kind of represent that portion of hard-working-class people.

"I know I've got a lot of fans," he said. "My heart goes out to every single one of them because, if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I am now."

For winning the show, the former chicken catcher from Western Kentucky is now $1 million richer and booked to headline an America's Got Talent showcase in Las Vegas.

Skinner, 35, turned heads early in the televised competition, which aired this summer on NBC. He was compared to Susan Boyle, the frumpy Scottish church singer who created a sensation last spring on AGT's sister show, Britain's Got Talent.

"Her story kind of reminded me of mine," Skinner said of Boyle, who appeared on Wednesday's America's Got Talent live finale.

"She's a phenomenal singer, and you'll hear a lot of good things from her."

Like Boyle, Skinner looked as if he might be a joke when he arrived on the AGT stage with a backward baseball cap talking about his job catching chickens. But then he performed Garth Brooks' song If Tomorrow Never Comes, a sentimental favorite of his late grandmother. People started calling him the American Susan Boyle.

But Skinner didn't quite become an international sensation like Boyle, who ended up not winning the British series.

Going into Wednesday night's finale, Skinner hardly looked like a shoo-in. Many prognosticators favored opera singer Barbara Padilla of Houston, who finished second.

"It was a mystery right up to the end," Skinner said Thursday. "Barbara's got a phenomenal voice, and I know that she's going to have a great career."

While he was on stage in Los Angeles, Skinner said, he could imagine what it must have been like at Hill's Bar-B-Que in Mayfield, where he has played and where hometown fans gathered to watch the show.

"I would give anything to be a fly on the wall," Skinner said. "I heard they were dancing in the streets in Fancy Farm, a little town where I went to school. ... Mayfield was the same way. I heard a lot of people were really proud."

Darlene Watkins, who watched the show at Hill's with her family, told The Paducah Sun that Skinner's win "lets you realize your dreams can come true if you follow through with them."

Even though auditions for other talent shows such as American Idol and Nashville Star had been held nearby, Skinner said, this year's America's Got Talent was the first time he'd taken a shot at one of the shows.

Now that he's living the dream, Skinner couldn't come up with a big plan for the money, though several reporters on a conference call asked.

"Mmm," he said, the last time he was asked. "Maybe a truck. I've got a pretty decent vehicle now. I'm not much of a material person. As long as my family's taken care of and they're happy, I'm happy. I like to help my friends, too, because I believe in reaching out and helping others."

The big thing in his immediate future is the AGT showcase in Vegas, which will be hosted by TV personality and former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer.

Though Skinner seemed excited by the prospect of the show, it sounded as though one thing that probably won't change is his home base.

"I could get used to staying there and performing," Skinner said of Las Vegas. "But I'd definitely have to get back home and touch in with the family and my friends."

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