Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. caught a lot of people off guard when he opened his mouth to sing at his televised audition for America's Got Talent. The dreadlocked former car-washer is 6'4" and in his late 30s, but when he belted the first notes of the pop standard "I've Got You Under My Skin" like a certain blue-eyed crooner, audiences and judges alike delightedly voiced their surprise.
Murphy's own social circle was harder to win over. He tells NPR's Guy Raz that at first, his family members laughed at the thought of him singing Sinatra.
"They were like, 'Why don't you sing Motown?" Murphy recalls. And I was like, it's the only thing that's missing now: Everybody's doing Motown, everybody's doing R&B, everybody's doing hip-hop. It's flooded with so many people ... [Crooning is] a lane all your own if you can get in it."
Murphy's affinity for pop standards is more than just strategy. He describes that repertoire as "blue-sky, puffy-cloud music," good for lifting spirits and bringing people together.
"I'm bringing back so many great memories for all my elders, and I'm showing the youth that's to come after me what being musical is all about," Murphy says. "A lot of the music that's out here is losing the essence of instruments and great vocal skills."
But Murphy insists he doesn't mind when people remark that he's gone against the grain with his music, or that his appearance doesn't match his voice. Of all who have witnessed his success, Murphy himself may be the least surprised.
"Going through all the stuff that I went through in my life at an early age — my parents splitting up, being homeless, having a son — all those things kept me grounded. I've been to the gutter ... [Now] my feet are just planted solid in the cement."