2004 American Idol hopeful William Hung failed to make the competition, but converted his success into failure and eventually landed a small record deal from Koch Entertainment.
In 2004, William Hung, a Civil Engineering major at Berkeley, achieved fame, or more properly notoriety for his tryout on the third season of American Idol. Hung was motivated to try out for the competition through his victory in a talent contest at Berkeley, because as he put it, "Uh, it's kind of odd why I chose to even audition in the first place, because, uh, my major is Civil Engineering, which is totally not related to music." Incredibly, Hung had been performing for a number of events at the request of the director of his college dormitory. While a number of terrible singers' auditions have been re-broadcast repeatedly thoughout particular seasons of American Idol, Hung's performance stands out as the only known failed audition which has landed the auditioner a record deal.
Hung's tryout performance, visible above, is a truly horrible song and dance routine of "She Bangs" by Ricky Martin. The odd thing is that although there are millions of American Idol hopefuls that only partly understand the concept of pitch and have little to no singing ability, few of those have diplayed the resilience to bounce back from failure and make fame and a little fortune off of the exposure (even the failures who do have some ability typically fade back into obscurity). There is no doubt that Hung has no real musical ability. Hung believes that his success comes from a determination to fulfill his dreams. Perhaps this dogged determination coupled with strange vocals, a quirky dance routine, and a boyish vibe made Hung endearing to some. The clash of reality with Hung's dreams was apparent in his tryout, and the dialogue after his lone Idol performance follows in this manner:
Simon Cowell: "You can't sing, you can't dance. So, what do you want me to say?"
William Hung: "Um, I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all."
Paula: "That's the best attitude we had yet."
William Hung: "And you know, I have no professional training of singing....."
Simon: "No....well there's the surprise of the century!"
Simon Cowell was wrong, however. The surprise of the century was that, following the broadcast of Hung's performance on American Idol (as has been done in the past with a particularly bad performance such as "Keith" performing "Like a Virgin") Hung received an overnight cult following of admirers, and his fan site www.williamhung.net received four million hits within its first week. Soon after that, Hung's career as a musician and instant celebrity was complete, and he appeared on the set of numerous shows and with famous persons such as Jay Leno.
Hung's breakthrough came on February 18th, when he was offered $25,000 and a music deal from Koch Entertainment after a performance at a Berkeley basketball game. Since then, his life has consisted of a whirlwind of celebrity, TV, and movie appearances. While he experienced success with music, making three records and registering near the top of Itunes downloading service for a time, Hung failed to carry over his success to film when the movie "Where is Mama's Boy?" utterly flopped in terms of popularity and sales. Hung's success story does prove that even talentless individuals can achieve success with the indomitable attitude, positive outlook, endearing naiveté, and lack of musical skill which is his trademark. Perhaps once in a blue moon, this typically unremarkable combination of traits combines with a little of the right kind of exposure to create a cult of personality. The stars certainly aligned for Mr. William Hung.