Updated: Jun 25, 2020
| This is the 496th story of Our Life Logs |
To most of the world, I’m known as the “She Bangs” Guy, the man whose American Idol audition had news outlets dubbing him the “worst singer ever.” But to my friends, I’m just William Hung, the man who never gives up on his dream.
I’ve always been known for exuding positivity. But to know how I got that way, you need to know my background. I was born an only child in Hong Kong in 1982. My father worked as a jewelry model maker. The best way to describe it is that he would bring people’s drawn ideas to life. His developing career brought us to Hershey, Pennsylvania, in the United States when I was in the 4th grade. Unfortunately, that job only lasted six months before he was laid off. After that, we moved to Los Angeles, California, where I spent the rest of my upbringing. When I think back on my childhood, I think of my mom’s exuberance, my father’s determination, and our karaoke nights. None of us were very good, but we always had a blast!
My parents were kind-hearted and supportive of me, especially my mom. She cared less about good grades and more about if I was happy. She was bubbly and fun and was never afraid to express her feelings with honesty. Positivity radiated from her pores, and I wanted to be just like her. With a warm smile and a hand on my shoulder, she used to tell me, “It’s okay to fail as long as you tried your best.” That always resonated with me. As I grew up and went off to college, it became my life philosophy.
I attended the University of California, Berkeley where I majored in Civil Engineering. One day, when I was walking across campus, I stumbled across a flyer for the school’s talent show. I thought it would be fun to enter and sing my favorite Ricky Martin song, “She Bangs.” Karaoke nights growing up were always so much fun. With my mom’s positive words rattling in my mind, I entered the show. And, can you believe it? I won! My prize? A DVD player. I know, super exciting. But truly, I won something bigger that night; the confidence to audition for American Idol in fall 2003. I’d had no professional training, but singing was something I loved to do, so I went for it.
It’s important to note that I didn’t tell anyone about my plans to audition. While my parents wanted me to be happy, like most parents, they also wanted me to become an engineer or a doctor. Entertainer didn’t fall on that list, so I kept it a secret. Plus, if they knew I was skipping two days of school for the audition, they’d think I was crazy!
And so, without telling a soul, I traveled about an hour to San Francisco to audition. As I stared around at the 3000 other people waiting for their shot at fame, I wondered if I even had a chance. As time ticked by and I heard people say they were only given 15 seconds to sing for the producers before they were sent away, I got a little nervous. But after three hours, it was my turn, and they let me sing for a whole minute! To get to what’s seen on TV, you go through a couple rounds so they can condense who goes before the judges. I was let through that first day, then the second by the executive producers, to audition for the legendary judges (Simon, Randy, and Paula) on the third.
• • •
When I was motioned to go in, I went in a little nervous, but mostly excited to perform. I wanted to try my hand at making music for a living, and I knew this was my chance. I came in with a smile on my face and when asked why I wanted to be the next American Idol, I said, “I may not be the best singer in the world, but I sing from my heart, and I put all my energy into it.”
I started performing my go-to song, “She Bangs” by Ricky Martin, coordinated with some expressive dance moves. Those familiar with my story know how it went from here. The judges tried not to hold it together. Why? Because they thought I was an awful singer. Randy put a piece of paper in front of his face to hide his laughter, Paula was grooving along, and Simon looked disappointed before stopping me with a lifted hand and a gruff “Thank you.” He continued by saying that my performance was grotesque and the worst audition they’d seen this year.
“You can’t sing, you can’t dance. So what do you want me to say?”
I could feel my confidence deflating as he talked, but at that moment, I knew I had a choice. I could let his words upset me and react negatively, or I could rise above it and stay positive.
I nodded my head and then said, “I gave it my best. I have no regrets at all.”
The judges were happy with that response and Paula said, “Good for you.” The verdict came out of Randy’s mouth, “You’re not good enough for this, dude.”
And I walked out of the audition room.
• • •
Despite being rejected, I felt good. I’d had fun, and like my mom used to tell me, “It’s okay to fail as long as you tried your best.” And I had. I’d done the best I could, and it was okay that my best wasn’t good enough. I put the experience aside, thinking my life would go back to normal. I even went back to class that afternoon!
Then the auditions aired in January 2004, and I was completely blindsided when I saw that not only had I made it onto the episode, but Ryan Seacrest, the host, had added commentary around my performance saying I’d have to “bang somewhere other than Hollywood.” That night, the local news mentioned my audition saying, “William Hung is the worst singer ever.”
Like at the audition, I had a choice; let the negative comments get to me, or stay positive. I had shown myself with respect and class, and even though I was bad, I had at least tried. I had no idea what this episode would do to my life.
The next day in class, my professor put my audition up on the screen, and after that, fellow students were approaching me to give me compliments. Many said they admired my courage and positive attitude. That afternoon, I checked my school email and was in shock when I saw that I had dozens of emails from news outlets and talk shows wanting to interview me. I couldn’t believe what was happening. How could one audition that was on TV for less than two minutes create so much attention? I wasn’t used to this at all, and it was a bit overwhelming.
I decided to take this chance while I had it and appear on talk shows and other news channels. I went on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Entertainment Tonight, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show (among others), and even made special appearances in Dateline NBC and Arrested Development. Suddenly, people weren’t treating me like a normal guy. They saw me as a celebrity. This confused me a lot, because I still felt normal. It all happened so quickly, and I became so busy, I had to drop out of school so I could pursue my music dream full time.
Then, the craziness continued when I was offered a record contract! Yes, the guy pegged as having the worst audition was offered a chance to pursue a music career. I couldn’t believe it. I saw this as a great opportunity for me to keep performing and spreading my positive messages.