smart spending

Fame & Fortune: General Larry Platt

General Larry PlattGeneral Larry Platt came to instant fame when he wowed the "American Idol" judges with his original song "Pants on the Ground." Since then, his song has become a viral sensation on the Internet.

Platt, 63, is a man with an intriguing past who, thanks to his "Idol" fame, is facing a strangely uncertain future. He has been active in the civil rights movement since his teens, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and receiving his nickname "General" from civil rights pioneer and King associate Hosea Williams.

Now that his original song has become a hit, Platt faces a far different kind of battle. Versions of "Pants on the Ground" have sold tens of thousands of copies online, though Platt's associates estimate that the number may be as high as a quarter of a million copies. And T-shirts are being sold with "Pants on the Ground" written across the front.

But while his song has become an overnight hit, Platt says he hasn't seen a dime from it. He has met with lawyers to try to collect royalties from what he claims are unauthorized versions and uses of his now-famous song.

In the meantime, Platt will continue to engage in his civil rights activities and to promote his song. He is even talking about a possible movie version of his life. Recently, Platt spoke to Bankrate about his instant success and some of the unforeseen troubles that have come his way as a result.

Bankrate: What inspired you to write "Pants on the Ground"?

Larry Platt: I tell you, I was on the courthouse steps, and a guy came by pushing a baby stroller with a baby bottle in his mouth and his pants on the ground. That gave me the idea to do it. So I thought about "Pants on the Ground."

Bankrate: Did you have a musical background?

Larry Platt: I can dance real good and would have a song in my mind, and I would sing to different people and make up different songs.

Bankrate: What did you think of the judges?

Larry Platt: I love the judges because the judges treat me good. Atlanta went crazy about me. Randy Jackson told me on TV that he wanted me to come see him 'cause he'll do something for me, and Simon Cowell told me the song was gonna be a hit.

Bankrate: Jimmy Fallon performed the song as Neil Young. Brett Favre sang it. People around the Net have remixed it. How do you feel when you hear other people doing your song?

Larry Platt: Don't feel too good about them singing my song, making money off my song. I don't like people to make money off my song, and I don't make money off my song. They get rich off my song and I get nothing. The Vikings helped me. The Vikings gave me money. At a gig in Las Vegas, they treated me right. I don't like people who push on me (referring to the paparazzi).

Bankrate: What do you mean?

Larry Platt: I go out there to sing.

Bankrate: The versions of "Pants on the Ground" that are on iTunes. Have you received any money from those?

Larry Platt: I didn't receive nothing.

Bankrate: What steps are you taking to fix that situation?

Larry Platt: I'm gonna keep on fighting. I've gone to a lawyer to get help, so I can keep mine. I don't want people to keep telling me the money's there and I don't see it. There's also a lot of money being made on ringtones, which is no good.

Bankrate: Is there any estimate as to how much money these versions have cost you?

Larry Platt: They've cost me millions of dollars.

Bankrate: What did you do for a living before "American Idol"?

Larry Platt: Different stuff in the civil rights movement.

Bankrate: With all you've been through in the past months, what have you learned about the business side of the entertainment business?

Larry Platt: It's a tricky game.

Bankrate: So what advice would you give to people who find themselves in your situation?

Larry Platt: Pull your pants up. Pick your pants off the ground.

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