He has gained a worldwide cult following since his January 27, 2004 television debut as a rejected contender on the third season of the hit reality TV talent show, in which he intrigued the three-judge panel and millions of viewers with his exceptionally awkward and off-key performance of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs." The TV audience took an overwhelming and unexpected liking to the untrained, uncoordinated, and in-dire-need-of-a-headbrace Hung, whose fondness for karaoke has turned him into an accidental novelty star that is selling neither sex nor talent--he is simply selling his honest, earnest, unapologetically geeky self.
After winning a dormitory talent show during his freshman year for his supremely eccentric rendition of "She Bangs," 21-year-old Hung, a civil engineering student at UC Berkeley, decided on impulse to try out for American Idol in September 2003. Unaware that the show's producers would broadcast his audition four months later, Hung was in for a huge surprise, as was the world of pop culture in general. Viewers--amused by Hung's 90-second audition (cut too short by an aghast Simon Cowell) and inspired by his sincere reply to the acerbic judges' insults--immediately flooded Hung's UC Berkeley University email account with fan mail. Overnight, video files of his spastic audition were uploaded all over the Internet, and countless fan sites were launched as well--one started by McKinleyville, California real estate agent Don Chin, WillingHung.net, received 4 million hits in its first week alone.
Hung appeared on American Idol a few months later as part of a mid-season, hour-long episode titled Uncut, Uncensored, And Untalented, which featured auditions and performances by various Idol rejects and documented Hung's bizarre breakout rise to fame. For the show's finale, Hung performed "She Bangs" flanked by a bevy of sexy, cheerleader-skirted dancers. This was far from his last TV appearance; other top-notch media outlets quickly caught onto the William Hung craze, and the lovable Chinese-American dweeb was featured on Entertainment Tonight, The Tonight Show, The Today Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Dateline NBC, CBS's The Early Show, Extra, On Air With Ryan Seacrest, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Major publications like the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, and USA Today ran articles on the unlikely pop sensation, and he was interviewed on radio shows across the country. Hung even performed at the 2004 KIIS 102.7 FM Wango Tango summer festival in Los Angeles (alongside Jessica Simpson, Black Eyed Peas, Hilary Duff, Janet Jackson, and other pop idols), and belted out tone-deaf notes at various sporting events all the way from Canada to his residential city of Berkeley, California. It was at one Berkeley concert that the Fuse music channel and Koch Entertainment surprised the idolized loser with a $25,000 check and recording contract in February 2004.
Hung signed a deal with Koch in March and recorded his album--originally titled The True Idol and later renamed Inspiration--in a single weekend with producer Giuseppe D (Backstreet Boys, Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion). Rush-released on April 6, 2004, the 11-song debut album included covers of (of course) Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" and "Shake Your Bon Bon," as well as Elton John's "Rocket Man," the Village People's "YMCA," R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," and the Eagles' "Hotel California." The disc, which also contained Hung's spoken-word inspirational thoughts and a 40-minute making-of-the-album documentary DVD entitled A Day In The Life Of William Hung, debuted at number one on the Billboard Independent Album Chart and number 34 on the Billboard Top 200 in its first week of release.
Hung, modern pop culture's inexplicable, talentless phenomenon, is truly a wonder to guffaw upon. Exploited or not, one thing you can say about the "Hong Kong Ricky Martin" is he's certainly no cookie-cutter pop star, notwithstanding American Idol as his claim to fame. Hung is, well, Hung--nothing more, nothing less, but someone who has sparked absolute nationwide hysteria.