Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. talks about his 'America's Got Talent' win
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 09/15/2011
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. was crowned America's Got Talent's sixth-season champion during Wednesday night's live finale broadcast of the NBC reality competition series.
The singer from Logan, WV, who overcame being homeless at one point in his life and advanced to washing cars and then winning America's Got Talent, walked away with the $1 million grand prize and the opportunity to headline a show in Las Vegas -- leaving his difficult past behind him.
During a Thursday conference call with reporters, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. talked to Reality TV World about his America's Got Talent experience and victory -- including what singing background and performing experience he had prior to auditioning for the show, whether he expects to land a recording deal in the near future, and why he never took a single voice lesson when he had such a talent.
Reality TV World: Unless I missed it during one of the episodes, the season didn't seem to show a lot about what type of singing background and performing experience you had before you went on the show. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: I have a great friend back home by the name of Rick Lilly. He owns a town and country shop and once he settled down or whatever, he needed a blues singer for his blues soul band that he was thinking about putting together.
He heard about me a lot and I went to his house, I sung "My Girl" for him, I sung "My Way" for him, I sung "Mustang Sally" for him and we sat down and came up with a name called Top Chef because I felt like we should be the best of the best.
We started touring West Virginia -- even some parts of Ohio. We was doing anything from R&B to R&B and blues, Wet Willie, southern rock, Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones. I mean, just about anything you can think of besides the crooner stuff. I did that on my own when I wasn't with my band, so. But yeah, we do it all.
Reality TV World: [A recording deal isn't technically part of the show's prize package, but] you've mentioned you have been talking to producers, so are you expecting to announce a deal in the near future?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: Oh, yeah. I'm really expecting for that to happen. So I'm just trying to take it easy right now and spend this little time I'm going to have to rest with my family and friends, and then it's back to hard work.
Reality TV World: During the show, you also mentioned you never had a voice lesson in your life. Why was that? Was that just due to financial reasons or did you not realize how talented you were? What was your reasoning?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: It was solely on financial reasons. I mean, we weren't very fortunate growing up. We were on welfare and things like that, so I mean, there's a lot of opportunities that I could have had and my family could have been done something about, but people have their own issues.
They have their own way of living you know -- some invest in Cadillacs, some invest in people's futures. I just had to invest in my own at this point in my life.
Also in the conference call, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. told reporters what he plans to do with the money, what was going through his mind before his victory was announced, how he overcame adversities in his life such as financial hardships, whether he was worried he would struggle in the competition because of his selected crooner music genre, and why he said he will not return to car washing.
What are you going to do with the money?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: I'm going to invest in my kids' future, you know? I mean, my kids are very talented also. I just want them to finish school and hopefully go off to college and pursue their dreams. That's what I want to do with the money and get a big house for my family -- give some money to my wife and care for her a lot. (Laughs) It's just something that I would love to do.
What was it like to be onstage when America's Got Talent host Nick Cannon declared you the winner? That had to be the scariest moment of your life beforehand.
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: Oh yes it was! It was a crazy rollercoaster ride that I've been on, but most of all, I was just basically thinking about everybody back at home. My family was in the audience... [many people] have just rallied behind me and supported me.
It was an amazing moment. Sitting there waiting to hear that announcement that I won was just everything that I wanted for my own sake, you know? It's been a pleasure.
In the moment when you were waiting for Nick to make the announcement of the winner, did you think it was going to be you?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: Really, no I did not. I just thought America was going to have sympathy for the kids just like I had throughout the whole show. It's been hard for me to stand up there with them and see them go home. So, I really thought that America was going to vote the other way, but I guess they had sympathy for me too and compassion for my story. So, it's just been nice. I love it.
What are you most looking forward to about your performance in Las Vegas?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: Catering to all my elders. I mean, our elders have nothing to do. It's like no one caters to them anymore, so that's what I really want to do. I just want to cater to them, give them a fantastic show and bring something new to the classic crooners genre and let the youth of America and the rest of the world see how big bands operate. (Laughs)
When you're onstage in Vegas, do you think you're going to branch out from that crooner sound?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: Yeah, I'll probably throw in a couple of songs here and there, but mainly, I want to stick to the crooner thing because it is for Vegas and that's what got me to Vegas. I also want to give a lot of my fans what they want to hear, so yeah.
Do you mind talking a little bit about how you had once been homeless in your life and how you overcame that adversity?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: At one stage in my life, I was living in Detroit, MI and my mother and my father separated in Logan, WV where she moved me and my brother and sisters to Detroit. But by the time I was 21 to about 25, that relationship started breaking apart between her and her boyfriend.
So when she moved back to West Virginia, I was basically all alone because my sisters were already gone and married off. My little brother came back to living with my mom, and I was just up there basically all alone.
I had like nowhere to go, so I started sleeping in my car or under bridges, and then my sisters kind of like figured out sort of that I didn't have nowhere to go. So they told me, "Hey, we love you. You better get out of there and get in the house and you can come stay in the basement or we got an extra room."
But my pride wouldn't let me ask them to stay with them, and they were just new in their marriages and things like that so I didn't want to intrude on anybody. But I just had to swallow my pride and get off the street. Thank you to my beautiful sisters for taking responsibility for getting me out of there.
Are you going to make an impact on anything such as starting a foundation or giving money to charity with your winnings?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: I'm just going to take care of my elders and put on the best performance I possibly can. I'd like to start my own charity, because I've done charities for probably about a good 10-12 years for the weekend program back in Logan for the Children's Home Society. So, I'm very charitable, you know? (Laughs) I just want to do a whole lot of work and help people who can't do things for themselves.
Would you ever consider writing a book on the story of your life?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: Yes. I would love to sit down and do that with somebody and get a publisher and all those nice, wonderful things. It'd be a very good, exciting, sad book. I think a lot of people would really relate to my story.
It's not just me going through this. It's a whole lot of people in this world going through this same thing that I've been through. I think a lot of people would relate to it if I did get the opportunity to sit down and write a book.
You once were a car washer. Do you think you'll ever go back to that job?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: No. I'll probably open up a nice detail shop that treats everybody like a VIP. I think everybody should get red carpet treatment wherever they go when they're spending their money.
I mean, that's the hardest thing to find. If you roll up and someone's washing your car, you expect them to do it the same way that you would do your own. So that's the type of place I would want to open up for all those regular 9-5 people out there -- just make them all feel important.
Did you ever think you'd face a struggle entering the competition and not get as far as you could because of the type of music that you sang?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: Oh, no. I felt like I would get at least in the Top 10 with the genre that I picked because this is a show for Vegas. The winner headlines a show in Vegas and obviously gets a million dollars, but the only thing they're missing in Vegas is the Frank Sinatra or rat pack.
So, I brought all of that back and all of the young generations that are watching this show, it's the number one show in America, so it's letting the young generation see that. You see a lot of kids running around now singing Frank Sinatra songs. (Laughs)
Would you consider the crooner sound your favorite style of music and how did that become a part of who you are?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: I don't have a favorite genre of music. I love all music. The only thing I haven't really like pressed on is blue grass, but I'm pretty sure that I can accomplish that. I just love it. It just makes me feel good. That genre of crooner -- that classic genre -- is just blue skies and puffy clouds. It doesn't discriminate; It doesn't brag. It's just happy fun music. It keeps chivalry alive.
How did you get involved in that kind of music? A lot of people expected you to do R&B.
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: Yeah. I got into that by just commercials and hearing Frank Sinatra on commercials back in the '80s and things like that. Then Married with Children came out and the theme song was "Love and Marriage," so I kind of tuned into that every night.
And then on the basketball court, when I would play basketball, I wasn't the biggest guy so when I would dunk on somebody, I would sing, "I've Got You Under My Skin" or I shoot a jumper and then I go, "Fly Me To the Moon."
That's what I did. Instead of trash talking to people, I would sing to them on the court. It went from that to my friends making me bets, telling me that I can't sing that in a public bar. And then I made my wife a bet -- then she was my girlfriend at the time -- that I could win a local arts and crafts talent show. And I won that. So, it just snowballed from there.
How did you feel about the first impression that the America's Got Talent judges gave you during your initial audition?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: It was kind of harsh, you know what I'm saying? Because a lot of people try to judge you as soon as they see you and think they know what you're all about, but I think I opened up America's eyes to, "You can't do that." Everybody deserves a chance. I mean, even with the gum in my mouth, I think I would have still nailed the song with no problem because I do it anyway.
I do that in bars, I do that anywhere I'm at -- with gum in my mouth and I hit every note. So it was just the way that they wanted to do it, you know what I'm saying? -- Make me do what they wanted me to do. So I just stuck it in my pocket and kept it. (Laughs)
What were your friends and family's first reaction when they discovered you wanted to sing that kind of music?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: My friend back home that made a bet with me, he told me, "Yeah, do it." But there were a lot of people that were close to my family that really told me I was stupid. They were like, "Man, are you crazy!? No one wants to hear that. You better go out there and do what you do." And I was like, "This is what I do! I love this music. This music is the only music out there that's missed."
Everybody's doing this, that and the other thing, but you don't hear anybody doing like big-band rat pack stuff no more besides Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr. Tony Bennett is still around.
I would love to work with him or Queen Latifah. She does a nice jazz set. It's just bringing back that good music, man. I'm sick of all the technology that's going on. I like the people that play their instruments. I want to feel the cello and all those things.
What's your next big goal now that you've broken into the industry?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: My big goal is to go and show my kids a good life -- get them some health insurance, you know -- a cat for my wife, get a big house. But most of all, my son has a big event coming up in September and they want me to do a duet with him. So I'm going to try to make it to that and that's going to be fun.
Who would you have wanted to win the competition other than yourself?
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr: Silhouettes. I loved their performance every single time. They were so good and even through their adversities, they were just so brilliant and so graceful through the whole competition.
Those little girls and those little boys were so graceful and so humbling and so nice to all their elders. They just showed so much, so much grace. And of course Pop Lyfe are my little homies, you know? It's basically it, yeah.