America’s Got Talent winner Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. has come a long way since being homeless and struggling “working regular jobs.” The crooner blew us away with his jazzy renditions of Dean Martin’s Ain’t That a Kick in the Head and Frank Sinatra’s My Way throughout the show’s sixth season. The reality TV star says he wanted to show the “younger generation what good music used to be like.”
The 37-year-old father-of-five gets frank with Celebrity baby Scoop about how “music nowadays is hurting people” and says he’s challenging other artists to rise above the oppressive lyrics. “I didn’t want to go out there and sing a song that was going to upset somebody or degrade any women,” he says. He continues to tell his inspirational story that led him to AGT, opens up about his “great” kids, and says music can be good again “if we started picking up instruments again and loving one another.”
CBS: Congrats on your America’s Got Talent win! How has life changed?
LEM: “Thank you so much. Life hasn’t changed too much. I’m just really busy, but I’m still myself.”
CBS: Tell us about how you got on the show.
LEM: “After washing cars and working regular jobs, I started singing in a blues band throughout West Virginia. I did charity events and things like that. While I was doing that, my mother in law passed away and my wife started spending time up at their place [before she died]. It got to the point where she didn’t want us to go home. Sometimes we would spend up to a week with her and one time when we went home, my door was kicked in and was wide open. Somebody had broken in and taken everything that I owned – all my clothes, all my furniture.
And then my blues band fell apart. So with that and the robbery, I remember just laying in my bed and asked, ‘What can I do?’ God spoke to me and said, ‘You need a bigger stage.’ And right at that moment, an America’s Got Talent comercial came across my TV screen and I just knew: ‘This is what I need to do.’ I signed up and I told a lot of my friends and family that I was going. Some of them laughed because I told them what I was singing. I told them I was going to stick to my gut. AGT is the kind of show that lets you be yourself. I told them the songs I wanted to sing, and they let me go out and do it. And I really appreciated that.
And I didn’t even go on the show to win! I just went to have a better chance at doing something. I really wanted to go to New York and sing Frank Sinatra without getting ‘booed’ – as a black male, I’m 6’4″ with dreadlocks. Either they were going to make fun or me, or they would like me. I chose Frank Sinatra because I didn’t want to go out there and sing a song that was going to upset somebody or degrade any women.
And then I wanted to bring back all the old crooners from my memories, and create new memories for generations to come just to show the younger generation what good music used to be like. And what it could still be like if we started picking up instruments again and loving one another.
I sang I’ve Got You Under My Skin. That’s the first one I sang on my audition.”
CBS: Do you like R&B and rap music?
LEM: “Yes, I like everything from motown to southern rock. But everybody’s doing R&B. There’s millions of rappers. I do it too; I do R&B and hip hop. But I just wanted to do something different. And plus, as far as the show goes, the winner headlines a show in Vegas. I was thinking about what was missing in Vegas… a crooner! That’s the only thing that’s missing in Vegas. So that’s why I chose Frank Sinatra.”
CBS: Are you in Vegas right now?
LEM: “No I’m at home right now and have some shows coming up including a show at the ESPN Venue in Indianapolis. I sold out the Clay Center which is the biggest arts center in West Virginia where I’m from. I sold it out four times in a row. No one has ever sold it out – Céline Dion has been here and no one has ever sold it out.”
CBS: What are your kids’ names and ages?
LEM: “Michael, 17, Marcus, 15, Morgan, 13, Terrick,18, and my stepdaughter Kyra is 15. They’re doing great. My son is about to graduate and he plans on going to college. He plays and sings also. He might play in some of my shows.
They can’t believe I won the show! I’m 37 and they think I’m old. They say, ‘I can’t believe you’re still following your dreams, dad.’ Why wouldn’t I?! Teenager think 30-year-olds are old.
I want to set the example for all kids. Or just anybody who has a dream to just go out and do it. I just got the West Virginia of the year award! There’s just a whole lot of stuff going on. It’s been a fantastic ride.”
CBS: How do you feel about Jay-Z ditching the word ‘bitch’ from his lyrics?
LEM: “He’s listening to me! That’s what music has to do. Music nowadays is hurting people, it’s not making things better. They’re talking about all the women they’ve had sex with, or that they can’t have sex with. And all the money and all the cars. People are getting tired of it! Why would you go out and buy somebody’s CD if they’re going to dog you in their songs? I don’t understand why women would buy a booty-shakin’ song when all they’re doing is dogging you in the video. They’re talking about you through the whole album and you’re at the club dancing to their song like it’s a good song for women. It’s not.
That’s why I chose the genre that I did. I could’ve come out and done the same thing, but I didn’t want to do that. I quit buying people’s music because they’re always talking about the same thing. When 2Pac and Biggie died, I just stopped buying hip hop.
My kids listen to Lil’ Wayne and Jay-Z. The point of it is, if I was to buy your CD or go to your concert and after the concert I feel like less of a man, there’s something wrong with that. I have to go out and try to rob a bank or sell drugs or do something to even get on your level, just to look good in my woman’s eyes or my kids eyes?! Why would I spend my last dollars on that? I don’t get that. I don’t understand why America does that. I really can’t see myself going to anybody’s concert unless they’re giving me a positive message in their song.”
CBS: Who inspires you musically?
LEM: “I like Beyoncé, Common from Chicago as a hip hop artist. I like Jennifer Hudson, Tony Bennett, and Queen Latifah has a jazzy thing going on now. There’s a whole lot of people who could be that way. Lil’ Wayne could be that way, he’s got enough followers.”
CBS: What’s up next for you?
LEM: “I want to focus on my goals for 2012. I want to give back to my community. I want to help out with my kids’ education. I’m trying to get our house built. And I’m working on a crooner album of my own songs. I also want to do a gospel CD and a Christmas CD.”