Before 2010, life hadn’t been kind to Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.
He’d spent the past 10 years washing cars. Before that, he had been homeless, literally living in his car.
After 2010, he was still just an average guy, but life got so much better.
The incredibly likeable Murphy blew judges and fans away with his voice on the hit TV show “America’s Got Talent,” and won the competition in 2011. Murphy will be performing on Friday at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club.
Murphy and his wife drove to New York from Logan, W.Va., and waited for 12 hours for him to audition for the show. It was the first time he’d ever auditioned for anything in his life.
Shortly before the two drove to New York, Murphy’s house was robbed. He was down to his last pair of jeans when he got to the theater.
As he walked out on stage — the last person being judged for the show — he looked out to see judges Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel staring back at him.
“I had never thought of auditioning or possibly going on television to audition for anything,” Murphy said. “At that point in my life, I was at my lowest point, so I had nothing to lose. I didn’t go there to win it, I just wanted to better my life and show people … the Frank Sinatra stuff. I felt like America needed it at that time.”
Murphy, who was scolded by Morgan for chewing gum on stage, totally wowed the judges and the audience at the theater. When Murphy sang, a smooth, captivating sound came out of this tall, lanky man with long hair.
“I remember as a kid listening to Frank Sinatra,” Murphy said. “I always wondered, ‘Why are people listening to him?’ I really didn’t understand it. But it was always around me. In ‘Looney Toons,’ Bugs Bunny … they always made fun of the Rat Pack. Then the ’90s came around and ‘Married with Children’ came on where ‘Love and Marriage’ was the theme song. Sinatra’s always been around.”
Murphy said it was actually Nat King Cole who turned him on to that genre of music.
In 1984, Motown Records celebrated its 25th anniversary by showcasing a lot of its talent, including stars such as Michael Jackson. During the televised event, they had a tribute to Cole where they showed a video of him singing “Mona Lisa.” That just so happens to be Murphy’s mother’s name.
“Me and my brother would sing this song to her and she hated it,” Murphy laughed. “I realized how cool Nat King Cole was. He didn’t have to do splits, he didn’t have to do anything. He just stood there, played the piano and smiled at you while playing this beautiful song. That got me into the whole thing as far as the Rat Pack goes.”
Guys such as Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., inspired Murphy because they were themselves, spontaneous and flat-out cool.
“With YouTube, everybody is so fake,” Murphy said. “But to see those guys, they were actually genuine. They were being exactly who they were on an everyday basis.”
Although Murphy’s life completely turned around once he won the competition, he said it took the show for him to get his priorities straight. Murphy had to pay his child support, taxes, hospital bills, and parking tickets he had collected when he was a teen in Detroit.
“It took a million dollars to fix my life,” Murphy said. “… All my life has been interesting. All the ups and downs made me who I am. I got to see things get really bad and I got the blessing in my life to be able to make things better. God blessed me with that ability. … Going on that show, looking at it now, I had nothing to lose.”
This past winter, Murphy flew out to California to work on tracks for his third album, which he said will be a combination of all types of different music, not just the standard crooner songbook. That’s what he wanted to do on the show, but he stuck with Sinatra.
“I was going to do all genres,” Murphy said. “I was going to start off with Frank Sinatra, then hit them with Motown and then some hip-hop, but once they heard … the Frank Sinatra, they were like, ‘Can you do more of those?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, all right, let’s do that. I’ve got enough songs in my repertoire to do all Frank Sinatra this whole show.’”
Looking back at Murphy’s life before and then after “America’s Got Talent,” it’s easy to see why a lot of people see his story as inspirational. Ever humble, Murphy said he never really saw himself as a role model or an inspiration. He’s just happy being Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.
“I guess you can look at my life and say, ‘OK, guy’s been to the bottom and he pulled himself up, so I can do it, too,’” Murphy said. “A lot of people say that and you don’t want to glorify yourself as a hero or all of that other stuff. If I am an inspiration to other people, I feel like it’s an honor and a blessing. And if they feel that I am, then I thank them for looking at my life and saying ‘Hey, I want to do something good for myself because he did it.’
“I just think everyone should do something good just because. Why would you want to live your life unhappy?”