America’s Got Talent sixth-season winner, Landau E. Murphy Jr., is the spokesperson for Everyone with Diabetes Counts (EDC) and appears in TV, radio and outdoor ads to promote diabetes awareness and prevention. Down and out one minute and within a series of unforgetable moments, feeling on top of the world. Since his win Landau has been collecting positive memories like a kid in a candy store. With his infectious laugh and smile for days, he sat and spoke with ABILITY Magazine’s Lia Martirosyan.
Lia Martirosyan: You’ve got a lot going on. What motivated you to become a spokesperson for a West Virginia diabetes program?
Landau E. Murphy Jr.: People who have diabetes are dear to my heart, and I want to help them. My mom and a close friend were both diagnosed with the disease, and then the EDC program reached out to me and asked me if I would be a spokesperson. I said, “Sure.” We’re offering free classes to everybody in the state to show them how to control diabetes and how to eat well and things like that.
Martirosyan: How long have been you been doing this?
Murphy: I just started because before that I was on America’s Got Talent, and then I toured for about two and a half years. When I got back, they came to me to be the spokesperson, I told them about my mom and my friend. I’ve been on the campaign trail with EDC for about four months.
Martirosyan: What initially inspired you to audition for America’s Got Talent?
Murphy: I was at the end of my rope. I’d been robbed. Somebody took all my clothes, all the furniture out of my house, all the copper out of the walls. And they did it while my wife and I were away spending a couple of nights with my mother-in-law, after her husband passed away. So when we went back to our house and found out that it had been broken into, I felt like God was telling me,
“You need a bigger stage.” Once I heard His voice, I asked him, “What stage?” And that’s when Howie Mandel was on TV asking, “Are you the next America’s Got Talent star?”
Martirosyan: And you said, “Yes!”
Murphy: I thought, That’s the show right there for me, and God blessed me with the gift of just walking out on stage and being very popular with the audience. So I was really blessed to hear God’s voice telling me to go for it. I did, and here I am.
The funny part about it is, I kept questioning what God meant by a bigger stage, then the ad for America’s Got Talent went on to ask: “Do you have what it takes to headline your own show in Vegas?”
Martirosyan: Now that’s a big stage.
Murphy: So that’s how it happened, and I went with it. I walked into the next room, signed up online, then waited six or seven months. I had my audition on Nov. 16, 2010. And, then, they sent me home and told me to stay out of trouble, go in my room and lock the door. And I did that. I went home; I didn’t tell anybody back home. I was like, “Whatever you want me to do I’ll do. Come to New York and get on a plane? Sure.” So they flew me back and forth. And that was it, man.
My life changed. The experience hasn’t changed me as a person, I think it’s made me better because I’m able to give back and pay it forward more, and teach the new generation what good music’s all about. I’m playing the Great American Songbook—all the blue-sky, puffy-cloud classics. Music that’s been missing. I want to be one of the people who ushers it back in. Long as I can do that, man, I’m happy.
My concerts consist of black, white, Korean—everybody. And the age group is so broad, from kids to great-grandparents. I have a lot of people with disabilities who come to my show as well. I personally move them to the front of the line because the lines for my autograph signings are so long. I make sure everybody has a good time at my show. Then I stay until 3 o’clock in the morning signing autographs and taking pictures with all the fans, and that’s after arriving early and doing a meet-and-greet at the beginning of the evening. So I’m always the first one in the building and the last to leave.
Martirosyan: That’s kind of how I am at IHOP.
Murphy: I love that! I can’t stop laughing, man!
Martirosyan: Tell me something you don’t usually talk about, something people don’t know about you.
Murphy: I try to treat all my fans as if they’re the stars, and make them feel as important as they make me feel. A lot of times I’ll pull them on stage to help me sing songs. I wouldn’t have my house, my fame or my career without them voting for me and appreciating this talent that God blessed me with. I just want to share it every day. I’ve got so much comedy in my shows it’s ridiculous. I want to put a smile on someone’s face. I’m happy I’m putting one on yours right now. I’ve got so many stories to tell about my life, my personal problems, my struggles with peer pressure and self-esteem. It’s hard to put yourself in front of a camera, in front of the world, when you don’t feel like you look the part. I’ve always had that problem. But I deal with it every day. When I’m interviewing, I’m like, “How do I look? Do I look all right?”
A lot of people don’t get to see this side of me on television. They just see me going and doing what God asked me to go do. But when you come to my concerts or meet me in person, you get to see my personality, what I’m really all about. And I really appreciate your taking the time to do this interview because I’ve never really laughed so much before, except for when I’m clowning around with my kids. This is so cool.
Martirosyan: Tell me about your kids.
Murphy: I’ve got five.
Martirosyan: When did you have time to have five; you’re so young?!
Murphy: I’m 39; I’ll be 40 in August. I had my first son, Michael, when I was 19 or 20, so right now he’s going on 20. He’s in college. He’s an extremely good cellist, and is majoring in music. I’ve got another son named Marcus, and he and I are starting a record label together.
Murphy: He was out in LA with me when I was at Capitol Studios. He’s having a fantastic time just traveling with me. And I’ve got a stepdaughter named Kyra, who’s a straight-A student. She’s in the honor society, and getting ready to graduate. Then my youngest daughter is Morgan; she’s a fashion nut. I don’t know what she’s going to do in life, but she’s making good grades and playing basketball. My youngest son Terrick is the spitting image of me. He loves the outdoors, from motorcycles to hunting, fishing, bike riding and camping. He also loves the guitar. Anyhow, all my kids, I set them all down before I went on the road and told them how my life was going to be, and how they needed to stay humble. They really took it well. I’m blessed to have them in my life.
Martirosyan: They’re blessed to have you in their life, giving them all these opportunities to explore. Good for you.
Murphy: Oh, yeah. I’m going to tell you something that’s interesting about the whole journey with America’s Got Talent. When I signed up, I didn’t go to win. I thought I could win if they gave me a shot, but I didn’t think they would. So I just basically went to see if, out of the 15 million viewers that watched the show, 10,000 would say, “I like this guy. I want him in my restaurant or on my cruise ship or in my band.” That’s as far as I thought I would get. I never thought I was going to get to the top 10, and then move on to the final four, and end up headlining my own show in Vegas. I knew eventually I would get to Vegas, but I didn’t know it was going to be through that outlet.
When I signed up and left, there was a double rainbow in the sky. I’ve never seen a double rainbow in my life. And when I got to Hollywood, they put me in room 315. I was born at 3:15 a.m. Once I got to Hollywood I was sitting on a deck, and it was raining in California. And I was like, “It never rains here. Look, I brought the rain.” Then, I looked at the sky again and was like, “Look, man, there’s a double rainbow! There’s another double rainbow in the sky.” I used to live off of Route 44, but the name has been changed to Jerry West Highway named after the LA Lakers player who was born in Chelyan, West Virginia. They gave me this huge parade and my own street just like Jerry has. They also gave me my own holiday. The day of the parade, I’m sitting on the convertible car, the guy who was taking my picture was like, “Look, Landau!” I turned around, and there was another double rainbow in the sky.
Martirosyan: That’s 6 rainbows!
Murphy: (laughs) Then, the day that I went to New York for my taped audition, it was April 1. Here I am, a skinny, tall black guy with dreadlocks singing Frank Sinatra in New York on April Fools’ Day.
Murphy: When the show actually aired, it was May 31, my wife’s birthday. And here’s another: My name is Landau, but a lot of people in my town thought it was “Landon,” and gave me the nickname, “Dooney,” and then I signed with a hometown guy who does all my management and his name is Burke Allen. So together we’re Dooney and Burke, like the handbag company.
Martirosyan: Maybe that’s because you’ve got success in the bag.