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'America's Got Talent' winner Kenichi Ebina: 'A dancer can feel the house'

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Kenichi Ebina
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

It’s no surprise Kenichi Ebina is overwhelmed after winning America’s Got Talent last night.

The 39-year-old is the first dancer to ever win the talent competition, and starting with his original Chicago audition, he had fans in all the judges, particularly Howie Mandel. But despite that, Ebina didn’t know what to expect last night. “I was kind of hoping for a third or fourth finish,” he explained on the phone with EW today. “[Comedian] Taylor [Williamson] did a fantastic job during the finals, and my performance wasn’t that impressive, so I was surprised when I remained as a top two [finalist]. Everybody kind of thought it would be Taylor. So after that, I kind of thought, ‘Am I going to win?’”

While he did wind up clinching the competition — and the million-dollar prize — that wasn’t his goal going into the reality show. “This AGT experience — it wasn’t to win the competition, it was more for promotion,” he said. “I’m going to perform as long as I can, entertain people. I’m thinking my strength is direction; how I put a show together. I wanted to showcase different aspects of me.”

He did this by showcasing different types of dance, and while a lot of his early performances were high-energy and fast-paced, he arguably drew the most acclaim from an emotional, slowed-down routine a few weeks back. “After the first audition in Chicago, it’s more of a showcase for yourself,” he explained, detailing how he’s been performing for the past 20 years all over the world and saw this as a way to attract an ever larger audience. “And in the final performance, I wanted to do something where I don’t even need to be on the stage.”

Besides continuing to perform, Ebina hopes his win will encourage other dancers — both solo and group — to see America’s Got Talent as a legitimate avenue for them to go down. “It’s great. I’m hoping it gives hope to not only dancers, but all physical artists and performers,” he said. “In past seasons, five out of seven were singers.”

For a sampling of why America finally connected with a dancer, check out one of Ebina’s final performances below: