PANAMA CITY — Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., winner of NBC’s sixth season of “America’s Got Talent,” was looking for a bigger stage and he got it.
“When I signed up for the show, there was a double rainbow,” Landau said. “It was my moment, all I had to do is let go and let God in. God’s presence was around me, and He had His hand on me. I don’t think it was anything else, don’t think it was me — my time, my blessings.”
In November 2010, Landau and his wife, Jennifer, left their hometown of Logan, W.V., with not much more than what they were wearing.
“My mother-in-law’s husband had died, and me and my wife would go up there to spend the night,” Landau said. “When we got home, someone had kicked the door down, took the copper out of the walls, water was running out the front door and they had kicked the washer. I got mad for probably about two or three days, before I was able to sit and think, calm. God said, ‘All you need is a bigger stage.’ Don’t get mad because of all this. I just took all the stuff out of your way, so nothing is holding you back. Howie Mandel came across the screen right then …”
Landau and Jennifer were among thousands standing in line for more than 12 hours outside the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan to audition for “America’s Got Talent.”
“I picked Frank Sinatra as my genre to show respect to my elders, and I wanted to show younger generations hip hop and rap are not the only other things,” Landau said. “Pick songs that make people feel good.”
In his youth, Landau played basketball for a church league, keeping him fed and out of trouble. When he’d made a shot or dunk on someone, he was known for running back down the court singing “Fly Me to the Moon.”
“Listen to your heart, follow your own instincts,” said Landau, whose family was adamantly against his singing Sinatra. “A 6-foot-3 black guy with dreadlocks in New York singing Sinatra — enough said. I had to continue to pour it on. I picked songs according to how I was feeling. ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ to show the world we’re all the same. ‘Ain’t That A Kick in the Head’ — wow, I can’t believe I made it here.”
Landau received standing ovations Sept. 14, 2011, from judges Sharon Osbourne, Piers Morgan and Howie Mandel after singing a duet with Patti LaBelle and a rendition of “My Way.”
He worked with record producer and Grammy Award winner Steve Tyrell on his first album, “That’s Life,” which debuted in November 2011 at No. 1 on the Billboard jazz charts and the top 40 overall. Some of the vocals were recorded in LA at the Capitol studio “B,” where Sinatra recorded classics.
“I put my own voice and my own soul into this album,” Landau said. “For a lot of music fans, especially older people, I can bring back some happy memories. And, hopefully, I can create new memories for generations to come. I think my album encompasses all of that. I want to give back as much as possible and stay true to the people who supported me.”
A lifelong dream, Landau headlined a sold-out show at the Colosseum Theater Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, as well as the legendary Apollo Theatre in New York City.
“We sold out 60 to 70 shows since he won,” Jennifer said. “We also do duets together on stage. … It’s God’s doing, trying to stay on path, very thankful.”
On Sept. 24, Landau was awarded the TV Personality of the Year at the National Reality TV Awards in Hollywood after winning by the largest margin in the show’s history.
He and Jennifer, who recently bought a house in Logan, W.V., have five children ages 12 to 18.
“They’re handling it very well. It hasn’t really affected them any, very humble kids,” she said. “We’re blessed to have good grandparents to help out with the kids. … When Landau went on the show, he wasn’t going on to win, just be on a bigger stage publicly to show talent.”
When Landau takes to the stage at the Marina Civic Center on Jan. 11, expect to hear songs he became known for on “AGT,” as well as from his album.
“I just love singing songs for people,” Landau said. “The shows are grandparents to great-grandkids, black, white, it doesn’t matter.”
‘On the streets’
We had to reschedule our first phone interview, because Landau was doing a charity appearance at a homeless shelter. “I just listen to their stories and give them my perspective on how to deal with it,” said Landau, who spent about a year and a half on the streets.
“Sometimes you don’t get fed, and you keep your mouth closed and swallow your pride a lot and try to maintain manhood and respect for yourself, maintain you own humility. A lot want to work for meals but don’t have the resources,” said Landau, who admits his pride kept him on the streets so long. “I tell them keep your head up, you’re not at the end of the rope. When I was homeless I had the same issues, bullies on the streets. You learn how to be on your own.”
When his family wanted to come to his house for his birthday, the secret was out.
“I couldn’t tell anyone what my problems were, didn’t want them to know my struggle,” he said. “The only thing that saved me was I had a car. I cut hair with clippers and put gas in my car and would go get something to eat from McDonald’s or go to my sister’s house and have breakfast.”
As he got back on his feet, Landau began to do anything he could to raise money to give to charities: working at fast food restaurants, washing cars.
“I started a blues-soul band, Top Shelf, just doing shows to raise money for the homeless and abused,” Landau said.
He and Jennifer continue to give back, sometimes performing charity concerts.
“Jennifer is like my best friend,” Landau said. “We do duets. She does background. I keep everybody around me that’s been there — same people there from Day 1 when I didn’t have anything and are now still here.”
LANDAU EUGENE MURPHY JR.
Who: Winner of “America’s Got Talent”
What: Performing during tour as part of Bay Arts Alliance 2012-2013 series
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11
Where: Panama CityMarina Civic Center
Tickets: $20, $25 and $30