By ANN ALI ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
West Virginia is a state that has raised a lot of musical talent through the years, but only one singer can claim the title of West Virginia's own "America's Got Talent" winner.
Landau Eugene Murphy transformed from a regional performer who washed cars in Logan County to make ends meet into a national, household name and one of the Mountain State's favorite sons.
Murphy's success story sounds like so many the state has known. It's a tale that resonated on national television as smoothly as his lilting singing voice that harkens back to the Frank Sinatra days of easy jazz.
His father was a coal miner who loves music, and his mother has a musical family.
Murphy spent the first 10 years of his life in Logan, but when his parents divorced, he moved with his mother to Detroit, where he saw a lot of violence.
But he was able to make his own safe place.
"Basketball and the church kind of saved me, you know, and music," Murphy said in a previous interview.
"That's what saved me from being swallowed up by those streets, because from the time I was 13 to 18, a lot of my friends were dead."
He's pretty good, too. He used to share the court with NBA player Chris Webber. So is Murphy a Detroit tough guy?
"I'm not, but I am a mountaineer, you know, and you go out here and push one of these people around and see what happens," he said. "They're going to come out like a wildcat."
Murphy dropped out of high school before his senior year and he spent some time living in his car. He became a father three times over, and he has advice for young people to not do things exactly as he did.
"Try to stay in school as long as you can, you know, or try to finish at least," he said.
"I wish I would have finished school, you know, but like I said, at the time when I was in Detroit, my mind was not focused on school."
Murphy returned to West Virginia, refreshed a friendship with a childhood friend, Jennifer Carter, while the pair worked at a restaurant, and he made her his wife in 2005.
He was happy, but times were still tough. He says he talked to God and heard the gentle guidance to get on a bigger stage and keep his head up.
He went to the "America's Got Talent" auditions, treating it as a performance like all his others.
"I basically went in there just being me, not thinking of the other contestants as competition," he said.
"This is a moment that we're all going to share together, and I guess that's why all of them kind of loved me the way they do, because I was just 100 percent Landau."
His time on "America's Got Talent" was seen by the biggest audience in the show's history, and he was crowned the winner in September 2011. His debut CD, "That's Life," was released that winter and scanned more than 160,000 units along with more than 10,000 more sold during his tour dates.
He packed up with an 18-piece band to back his big jazz sound launching a tour with more than 70 stops — most of them sellouts. He appeared on even more national television shows such as "The Today Show," "Fox and Friends," "Entertainment Tonight," and "Access Hollywood." One of the highlights for Murphy was the "America's Got Talent" prize headline show at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.
Murphy's work ethic has kept him on many stages, performing for U.S. troop bases in Germany, at an ESPN Super Bowl event, a $110,000 fundraiser for Daymark, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's inauguration celebration and ringing in West Virginia's 150th birthday.
He will receive the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame Spirit Award in November 2013, and his book is scheduled to be released in October.
When he's not on the road, the father of five is back home in Logan.
"Jennifer and I have been very careful with our money," he recently said. "We've been able to purchase a nice little home in Logan. It's our dream house on the side of a mountain with lots of trees and a place all our own with plenty of room for our kids.
"People have said I need to move to Los Angeles or New York, but we're going to stay right here in West Virginia. This will always be home."
He's already working on his next CD, which he hopes will be released in time for Christmas, and his concert tour dates will take him across the country, from California to Florida and several places along the way.
His goals for the future are pretty simple — "To keep singing and making people happy."
But there's one thing in particular that he wants for Christmas.
"I hope that some folks in West Virginia will request us to do some shows close to home around Christmas time," Murphy said. "I love the holidays in West Virginia, with the snow on the mountains."