Landau Murphy's dream is coming true. Now the small-town West Virginia singer is "paying it forward" by sharing the profits from his success with others — especially children, veterans and the homeless.
Murphy, who will perform his "Home for the Holidays" concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Sheldon Theatre, got his big break on "America's Got Talent." He won season six in 2011 with an impressive rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."
Winning changed his life, but he's trying not to let it change him.
Murphy, who was employed as a car washer when he auditioned for "America's Got Talent," went from the TV show to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. His debut album "That's Life" spent six weeks as No. 1 on the Billboard Jazz chart.
He has since performed sold-out concerts around the world, headlined at major concert venues, appeared on multiple TV programs and even written his own story as a memoir. "From Washing Cars to Hollywood Star" was a No. 1 Amazon bestseller in the jazz books category.
Music has always been a big part of his life.
"As a young kid, I used to dance and imitate Michael Jackson," Murphy said. Growing up in the late 1980s and early '90s, he listened to Boyz II Men and other R&B groups.
But his affinity for big band style music began even earlier. What he calls "the crooner part of my life" dates back to his days watching TV cartoons that frequently incorporated classical music and tunes by the likes of Sinatra and Bing Crosby.
To this day, hearing Crosby sing the title song from the movie "White Christmas" brings back good memories. "It was part of my childhood," Murphy said.
"My favorite (singer) is Marvin Gaye," he said, but it was Bing Crosby who inspired him to explore that sound. The industry has compared his voice and phrasing to that of Sinatra.
The Sheldon concert will spotlight holiday favorites from the Great American Songbook plus two original songs he wrote and arranged with friends.
One of them is "Christmas Made for Two," the title track from his holiday CD. It raised thousands for the Children's Home Society of West Virginia and got national airplay including Sirius/XM's "Holly" channel.
Helping others was part of his upbringing. "My Grandma slept with the doors open," Murphy said, explaining that anyone who was homeless or hungry in his hometown of Logan, W.V., was welcome to stop in.
"I'm on a bigger platform," he said, "but I never want to forget that. ... Being able to give back is a blessing. I give back every time I'm on stage."
Murphy also has performed for the troops in Germany — his father was a U.S. Army veteran — and helped raise money for heart transplants for kids at a concert in Shanghai, China.
"I'm getting blessed. That's my way of paying it forward. It makes me smile — and it makes me sleep very easy," he said.
Murphy is bringing a big band ensemble to the Sheldon — including "horns, piano, drums, guitars, sax, trombone, trumpet."
Although he has appeared at the Dakota Jazz Club in the Twin Cities, this will be his first rural Minnesota experience. "I plan to dress for Minnesota (weather)," he said.
He looks forward to playing at the historic theater. "The intimate rooms are usually the best rooms," Murphy said. "I can connect with the audience."
Murphy continues to reach out. He is considering another book, and he has a cameo in an upcoming film, "Choices," for which he did the soundtrack.
"I'm trying to open up all the doors without losing faith, and keeping my feet on the ground," he said. "You have to remember where you come from and what got you here."
Murphy's CDs and merchandise will be for sale following the concert.
Tickets to "Home for the Holidays" are $35 to $55 for a VIP experience, $20 for students. Call 651-388-8700 or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.