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On season three of "American Idol," William Hung auditioned with Ricky Martin's "She Bangs."
He told Insider his audition was almost much different but that he was expecting rejection.
Hung didn't make it onto the show, but his audition aired, bringing him sudden fame and recognition.
"American Idol" premiered on Fox 20 years ago, promising to discover the next big singing sensation — or at least the next great viral moment.
William Hung set out to audition for the show's third season in 2004, and he didn't make it to Hollywood. But as Ryan Seacrest said during the show's 20th-anniversary reunion special in May, Hung's "very name is synonymous with 'American Idol.'"
Nearly two decades later, Insider spoke with Hung about his now iconic rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" and how his audition came together.
Hung went through several rounds of auditions before his famous interaction with the judges
Before he went on national television to sing "She Bangs," Hung was a 20-year-old engineering student at the University of California, Berkeley.
He joined thousands of other hopefuls at the San Francisco Giants' baseball stadium. But he knew he had a strong chance of his audition being on TV, whether he made it to Hollywood or not.
"Now it's different," Hung told Insider. "But back then, I knew that they liked to show the really good ones and then the really bad ones."
Although "She Bangs" has become synonymous with Hung, he said he originally had a very different song in mind.
"I actually picked 'Two Worlds' by Phil Collins because I thought it was better for my vocal range," he said.
When a producer asked him whether there was something else he could sing for them, he thought back to the song that won him a recent school talent show and gave him the confidence to go on "Idol" in the first place: "She Bangs."
"I just thought it was a very fun Latin song, very unique compared to all the other pop songs I was listening to on the radio, and that's why I wanted to go for it," Hung said.
After his preliminary "cattle-call" rounds, he was asked to come back the next day. Eventually, he met the show's host, Seacrest, and performed "She Bangs" for the judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell.
Hung braced himself for the judges' reactions, knowing that Cowell had a reputation for ripping singers apart. Once he started singing, his expectations came true — Cowell put up a hand to stop him midsong.
"You can't sing. You can't dance. So what do you want me to say?" the judge asked.
"Even though I told you that I expected that kind of reaction, it still bothered me," Hung told Insider.
But he tried to end the experience on a high note by telling the judges he "gave his best" and had "no regrets at all."
"I thought, 'I can stay positive. I can walk away with my head held high.' Because most people are not going to make it to Hollywood, including myself," he said.
In January 2004, season 3 of 'American Idol' aired on Fox
Hung watched the first episodes of season three alone in his dorm room, worried about what his classmates and friends would think.
"I didn't know which way it was going to go," he told Insider. "Either people would really like it, or people would really hate it."
The next day at school, Hung was surprised by the number of people who recognized him.
"All of a sudden, a bunch of my classmates asked me, 'Oh, my God. I saw you last night! Can I take a picture? Can I have your autograph?'" he said. "And that's how I knew that my life could never be normal again."
Even today, Hung is constantly spotted by fans wherever he goes.
"I go eat at a restaurant. I go play at a casino. Even at the airport, people will be like, 'Oh, my God. You're that guy! I remember you,'" he said.
Hung received a lot of love from fans, but he still has a difficult time reconciling with the way the media treated him
"American Idol" was known for presenting particularly bad or humorous auditions in between what the judges considered real contenders, and that formula made Hung's audition the butt of the joke. There was even a "Saturday Night Live" skit where Jimmy Fallon parodied the audition.
In March 2002, after he landed a record deal with Koch Entertainment, Hung told Rolling Stone: "OK, so I'm not famous for the right reasons. I'm infamous, a joke. It doesn't make me feel good, because I'm a genuine person, but I don't let it get to me, because I am who I am."
As months passed and people were still talking about Hung, media outlets started analyzing what role his race played in the gag, given that he moved to the US from Hong Kong at 11 and spoke with an accent from learning English as a second language.
In April 2004, Emil Guillermo wrote for SFGate, "With William Hung, is there any other reason to extend the joke on America except that it plays to a racist image of the ineffectual Asian-American male?"
Later that month, Randy Henderson wrote for The Seattle Times, "People are not laughing with Hung, people are laughing at him, and the whole entertainment industry seems to be supporting this collective racist guffaw."
But Hung told Insider that the criticism that hurt him the most was the ridicule from other Asian entertainers and celebrities. He highlighted a 2020 interview on "The Joe Rogan Experience" where the actor Jimmy O. Yang discussed why he turned down the lead in a biopic of Hung's life.
"I will never forget how one of the comedians, Jimmy O. Yang, said that I set back Asians 10 years," Hung said.
Today, Hung hopes he can inspire others to pursue their dreams
At 39 years old, Hung now works as a motivational speaker and hopes to "bring happiness to other people every day."
In May, he returned to the "American Idol" stage to perform "She Bangs" for the reunion special ahead of the show's 20th anniversary.
Seacrest announced him as a "legend" who "helped put this show on the map;" the show's current judges, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie, stood up to dance along; and the crowd went wild.
Whether people look back on Hung's audition with kindness, laughter, or nostalgia, he hopes to inspire them to go after their dreams.
"I feel like everyone should have a right to try something new without being judged or ridiculed," Hung told Insider.
Representatives for Fox and ABC did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
Read the original article on Insider