HOLDEN, W.Va. -- After winning "America's Got Talent" and claiming its $1 million prize, releasing a best-selling album and embarking on a sold-out concert tour, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. could go just about anywhere and do just about anything.
What he most wanted was a "home on a hill."
He found one in October. It's a few miles outside Logan, off old U.S. 119. It's a sizeable home, but not palatial. It's a two-story frame house covered with wooden siding, creating a faux-cabin effect.
The walls inside are painted with deep, warm colors and Murphy's wife, Jennifer, has decorated the rooms in the popular country primitive style.
The cozy living room contains an overstuffed couch, loveseat, chaise lounge and a Christmas tree in the picture window. The mantle features a professional photo of Landau, a smaller photo of him singing the National Anthem at Mountaineer Field and his "Reality TV Personality of the Year" award from the 2012 National Reality Television Awards.
"He beat Kim Kardashian," Jennifer noted.
The Murphys closed on the purchase of their new home on Oct. 11 and moved in about a month later, after they returned from a short tour in Germany where Landau performed two sold-out shows to U.S. troops and their families. They celebrated a big Thanksgiving in the house -- the party included Landau's five children from an earlier relationship and Jennifer's daughter -- and spent Christmas there.
Although he originally planned to buy the property next door, Murphy says he knew he wanted this house from the moment he walked in. In some ways, he sees it as an extension of himself.
"It's country and city at the same time. That's what I am," he said.
Murphy is a living paradox, a country boy with street smarts, born in West Virginia but reared in Detroit, who could have found fame in R&B music but prefers to croon like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
It would be easy to pin his success on that paradox, but that would ignore the years of hard work and determination he put into his career before the television cameras came his way.
"This was a process for me," he says.
Life in Detroit
Murphy was born in West Virginia and spent the first decade of his life like any other country boy: getting dirty, wandering the hills, playing in the creeks and catching crawdads.
That life was interrupted when he was 11. His parents divorced and his mother, Mona Lisa, moved her children to Detroit. The change in scenery came as a shock to a young Landau. Back in West Virginia, Murphy knew he could just take to the mountains if he needed time alone. Detroit offered no such respite.
"It's all concrete," he said. "There's no mountains to escape to."
He eventually found a wooded area about 12 miles from his house where he and his friends would go to ride their bikes.
"That kept me on the country side of life," he said.
Murphy and his siblings grew up in Detroit, and it was there he became a performer.
His mom used to dress him like Michael Jackson, complete with the penny loafers and sequined glove, and take him into town where he would sing and dance for change. They often would leave with buckets of money.
Murphy started singing standards as a teenager. He was introduced to the sounds of the Rat Pack through commercials and the 1980s sitcom "Married With Children," which used Sinatra's "Love and Marriage" as its theme song.
He started trying to imitate Sinatra and eventually nailed the sound. If Murphy dunked a shot playing basketball, he'd sing "I've got you . . . under my skin." If he hit a jump shot, he'd croon "Fly Me to the Moon."
Mona Lisa eventually moved back to West Virginia and re-married, and then his sisters and brother did the same. Murphy, an adult, stayed in Detroit, where he didn't fare well.
"I was alone. It was just me and the streets," he said.
He hit hard times, and soon began sleeping in his car and under bridges. Pride prevented him from asking his sisters for help: they were in new marriages and he didn't want to be an imposition.
In the meantime, Murphy said he was robbed, carjacked and even had a few bullets fired in his direction by friends who thought he was someone else. He decided to leave the city before he got hurt, or ended up hurting someone else.
"I decided Detroit was too much. You always have to look over your back," he said. "That's what the city does to you.
"You can't let your guard down."
He returned to West Virginia in 2000, where he reconnected with Jennifer, who had been a childhood friend. They began dating, and she helped him land a job at the local Bob Evans restaurant.
'We were struggling'
Murphy bounced between jobs for the next few years, working at Shoney's and then as a flagger for a road construction company owned by infamous Powerball winner Jack Whittaker.
He made $30 an hour at that job and used the money to start remodeling the house he and Jennifer bought. But as Whittaker's personal problems began to interfere with his financial life, Landau and many of his co-workers were laid off. He got another job at Mike Ferrell Toyota in Chapmanville where, as "America's Got Talent" frequently reminded us, he worked as a car washer.
The couple married in 2005 but, shortly after the wedding, Jennifer's father died. She and Murphy temporarily moved into her mother's home in Omar to keep the elderly woman company.
While they were gone, thieves broke into their home and stole all their furniture, appliances and personal belongings, including their clothes.
"They took the copper out of the walls," Murphy said.
With no money to replace their belongings, the couple had to remain in Jennifer's mother's home.
"We were struggling," Jennifer said.