"America's Got Talent" winner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. doesn't consider himself an overnight success. The car washer-turned-crooner won $1 million performing Frank Sinatra standards on the NBC show last year, but long before he wowed audiences and celebrity judges Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel, Murphy was channeling Ol' Blue Eyes on the basketball court.
Instead of trash-talking, "Doonie," as he's known in his hometown of Logan, W.Va., would daunt opponents by breaking into "Fly Me to the Moon" if he dunked one or "I've Got You Under My Skin" as he moved in close. Both songs are now featured on Murphy's debut CD and national tour, "That's Life," which makes a stop at Sun City Hilton Head for two shows at 3 and 7 p.m. May 21.
"I picked 'America's Got Talent' because they let me be myself," said Murphy, 37, in a phone interview last month. The lanky, dreadlocked singer took the stage at his New York audition chewing gum, and when Morgan admonished him, he took it out of his mouth and put it in his pocket. Seconds later, jaws dropped when the singer launched into his smooth rendition of "Under My Skin."
"Frank Sinatra had a swag that was undeniable," Murphy said. "All he did was walk out there with a drink and a smoke and sing the kind of music that the older generation loves. I like being spontaneous at my shows and talking about my life. I don't ever want to be a reality phony."
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Murphy's small-town-guy-makes-good story includes being uprooted from Logan to Detroit with his mother and two sisters after his parents split up, and dropping out of high school in the 11th grade. For a time in his late teens, he slept in his car. He and a girlfriend had a son, later married and had two more children before parting ways.
"Church and basketball were the only things that got me out of the house and kept me going," he said.
After returning to Logan in 1999, Murphy sang with an R&B group in clubs and performed at charity events. He renewed a friendship with a childhood friend, Jennifer Carter, now his wife, and detailed cars to provide for her and their five children.
"Now I'm living my dreams, but it hasn't changed me at all," Murphy said. "I can't go to a restaurant or take my trash out without people stopping me, but that's what I signed up for."
Murphy credits his maturity, upbringing and work ethic for keeping him grounded. "I've had this talent all my life, but the way I was raised up, being homeless keeps you humble," he said. "God has a time and a place for everybody. I was good then, maybe even better than I am now, but mentally I was unprepared to handle it."
Murphy, who travels with a 9- to 20-piece orchestra depending on the venue, will be accompanied on this leg of the tour by his oldest son, Michael, 17, who sings, plays the cello and just graduated from high school.
"I can't wait to introduce him to my fan base," Murphy said.
Having already performed a soulful duet with the legendary Patti LaBelle on "America's Got Talent," Murphy has a bucket list of artists he would love to sing with, including Tony Bennett, Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson and Jay-Z. But what he loves most about being on tour is meeting his fans.
"I'll go to a Walmart and go up and shake the janitor's hand," he said. "After a show, I'm the last person to leave the building. I sing these timeless tunes and afterward, people come up and want to tell me these stories.
"It's what I've always wanted," he said. "I just want to be me and add my name to the American songbook."