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IMAGE: Hung
Fox
William Hung's infamous audition earned no points from the judges, but plenty from fans.
By
msnbc.com
updated 2/26/2004 4:51:16 PM ET 2004-02-26T21:51:16

The "American Idol" contestants are yet to be whittled down to the final 12, but one contestant already got a record offer — and he didn’t even make it past the first cut.

William Hung’s try-out, a spirited, if tuneless, rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs,” was icily received by the show's three-judge panel.

After suffering through Hung's 90-second tryout, during which he shouted the song's chorus and failed miserably at imitating Ricky Martin’s gyrations,Hung was interrupted by famously acerbic judge Simon Cowell. “You can’t sing, you can’t dance, so what do you want me to say?” asked Cowell.

“I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all,” Hung replied. His hilarious effort — as well as his earnest response — quickly gained him fans. Although he was bounced from the show, the 21-year-old now has a cult following.

Inadvertent cult hero gets 15 minutes
Soon after his tryout aired on Jan. 27, Hung received about 150 e-mails from resourceful fans who looked him up in a student directory at UC Berkeley, where he is a civil engineering student. The first and most comprehensive of many Web sites spotlighting him, William Hung.net, sprang up and received 4 million hits in the first week.

Video files of his performance were uploaded and forwarded all over the Internet, making William the latest in a line of Web cult heroes, not unlike the “Star Wars Kid,” the Quebec teenager who filmed himself twirling a golf ball retriever like a light saber.

Soon, audio mixes of Hung's singingwas arranged to OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and Howard Dean’s infamous “I have a scream” speech. They’re played all over the Internet and even have garnered play on some California radio stations.

Then came the apex of idolatry: Two weeks ago, Hung was spoofed on Saturday Night Live by Jimmy Fallon.

Now, Hung is basking in his goofy international fame: Enter “William Hung” on eBay and you’ll get over 50 different items that bear Hung's image, from caps and notebooks to T-shirts — and people are bidding. His fan base stretches all the way to Asia, where he was invited to perform at the MTV Asia Awards.  Don Chin, manager of William Hung.net says his site, which isn't associated with Hung, gets plenty of fan mail and even love letters meant for the singer. The Web site even has a special section called “Marry Me, Will!”

Hung is now keeping busy on the talk-show circuit. Entertainment Tonight took him to LA's Fantasy Studios for voice lessons with Eric Veto, voice-coach to stars like the GooGoo Dolls.

On the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Hung had the chance to perform four songs, adding Martin’s “Shake Your Bon Bon” and Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailamos” to his repertoire. DeGeneres even joined him on a duet of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” helping out when Hung appeared unsure of the lyrics.

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Fox is capitalizing on Hung’s popularity as well. Producers announced a special American Idol show “Uncut, Uncensored and Untalented,” scheduled to air March 1, and is using footage of Hung's now-infamous audition to promote the episode.

Ovewhelmed with attention
On Wednesday, Hung performed at UC Berkeley’s men’s volleyball game, where he received a $25,000 check from the Fuse music channel and a record offer from Koch Entertainment. If he accepts, Hung will be in good company, the Koch Entertainment stable of talent includes Ringo Starr, Montell Jordan, and the Bangles. The deal reportedly includes a music video that will air on Fuse.

What is it about Hung that has caught America’s eye?  When asked this by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, Hung said he thought people responded to his “attitude and charisma,” regardless of the quality of his performance.

Fan site manager Chin thinks it’s Hung's personality that people respond to. “He’s just very real," Chin said. "He doesn’t care whether he’s fashionable or not. He has a really good time performing, and he really gives it his all, just for the love of it. I think his joy is really infectious.”

Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer of “American Idol,” told Entertainment Tonight that it was great to see the nation embracing a loser. “That is fantastic to me because not everybody in this life can be a winner,” Lythgoe said. “To celebrate a loser is fantastic!”

But some say Hung is walking a fine line between entertainment and mockery.

“About one percent of the e-mails I get are concerned that people are making fun of William,” said Chin. “But I think he’s happy with who he is, and he likes making people happy with his performance. It’s just such a breath of fresh air how his video clip just makes people smile —young or old.”

For now, Hung is overwhelmed by the attention. School is still his priority, and he has enlisted his father’s help in managing all the media appearances.

Music is still his long-term goal, though. During the audition, Hung said that although his civil engineering studies are “totally not related to music,” he someday aspires to make his living through the craft.

To that end, Hung is taking singing lessons and has joined a university choir. He’s also reading Cowell’s book about becoming a pop star, “I Don’t Mean to Be Rude, But…”

Although his audition has led to all this attention, Hung still would have traded it all for a chance to have advanced through the American Idol finals.

“If I did get to the final and actually get to [perform] to the audience, to America, I think it would probably be more, not less, in terms of fame,” he told MSNBC.

He may get his chance yet —  petitions to bring Hung back as a wild card contestant are now at over 70,000 signatures.

Jesamyn Go is an associate Web producer for MSNBC-TV.

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