This true-life story is a repost from our sister site, Our Life Logs®
Whatever Happened to
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.
At American Idol audition, 2003.
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.
I accepted the contract and we rushed to push out an album because the executives wanted it out before the Season 3 finale of American Idol. It ended up being a bunch of covers, and we called the album Inspiration. In between songs, I had recorded positive messages to lift listeners’ spirits. Miraculously, it sold 200,000 copies and peaked 34 on the Billboard Top 200. People were beginning to recognize me on the street and calling me the “She Bangs” Guy. Of course, there’s always going to be people with something harsh to say. I was called a bad Asian stereotype and a singer with no singing talent. But I chose to not let those comments get to me and ride the wave of positivity people were bringing my way.
The record contract brought performances at events like sports games, more talks show appearances, and it seemed I had developed a cult following. It was a whirlwind of performing, appearances, and interviews for the next four years. But nothing this good can last forever.
Over time, the hype died down. As fewer opportunities came in, I decided to go back to school and finish my degree. I also obtained a Master’s Degree in Business. After that, I willingly hung (pardon the pun) up my entertainment hat and put on a new one; crime analyst in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
I went into the job thinking I’d be like the guys from CSI (Crime Scene Investigation). But I wasn’t really using scientific devices to solve crimes. I was mostly just categorizing crime data and writing reports. It was valuable work, sure, but I knew I could make a bigger impact than just organizing crime data. I also wanted something fun to do outside of work. I’d gotten married and divorced in a matter of a year, and I wanted something to keep my spirits up.
It seemed that fate was on my side because I discovered a Toastmasters Club across the street from my work in 2012. Of course! Professional speaking was the perfect outlet to give me a chance to perform once more. At my first meeting, I was asked to give a short speech introducing myself as a sort of icebreaker. I told them all about my journey and how I’d gotten here, and I was told I had a real knack for speaking. When I was giving a speech, I felt the same rush and joyous feeling I felt while singing. This confidence from the club also helped me thrive at work. I delivered a presentation on how to improve my department which led to a promotion from the Public Health Department.
In 2014, I got married again. I learned my lesson from last time, but not completely, as I met her through the same Chinese dating website and we married very quickly. She was a great person and skilled nurse, but after about two and a half years, we realized we just weren’t meant to be together. Our values differed too much. At least that’s what we said. That was the first time in my life that I had trouble finding the positive. How can you stay positive when your marriage falls apart?
I was very depressed during this time and began wondering if I was really living my best life. I had a great job, but I just felt like I wasn’t meant to be inside a cubicle forever. It felt like I was destined for more than what my life currently held. I thought back to the great times at the height of my entertainment career, and I wanted that excitement back.
As I was spiraling, a friend of mine said to me one day, “Do you know why people loved your music so much? It wasn’t because of your singing. It was because of your inspirational messages in between the songs.”
I realized he was right. While I loved performing, what I really loved was inspiring people and spreading joy. I could do so much more than entertaining. I could help people discover and leverage their own talents. My experiences can help others succeed in their own journeys.
And so, in 2017, I started networking within the Toastmasters Club to help obtain more opportunities to speak. I also started mentoring people to achieve their dreams. My first critical speaking opportunity was to be the closing keynote speaker for the Asian Realtors Association of America. I was incredibly nervous before walking on stage, but once I was up there, I felt right at home. After I was finished, I was met with a standing ovation. As the applause washed over me, I had tears of joy glistening down my face. That’s when I knew that my purpose was never just to entertain; it was to inspire others and spread positivity like my mom had always taught me.
Since 2017, I have had many other speaking opportunities throughout the country, including TedxTalks in 2018 and 2019. As I gained more clients to mentor, I finally reached a point that I could completely quit my job with the Public Health Department in January of this year. From speaking locally to small groups to speaking at global conferences for corporations and associations, I have found my purpose and a way to spread my positive messages to the world.
I look back on my short-lived singing career and smile because it showed that even an average Joe like me can find success, and I think that motivates others to reach their dreams too. All my life, I chose to stay positive and try my best to reach my dreams. If I would have given up when people called me the worst singer ever, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve also realized that happiness is not a destination. It’s a journey you have to work towards every day. I may not be the Asian Ricky Martin…yet, but I am going to keep being myself and working hard to reach my goals. It doesn’t matter how others see you. It’s how you see yourself.
This is the story of William Hung
William currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where he is growing his career as a professional speaker. As a child, William was taught positive messages and to be okay with failure, which later gave him the confidence to perform in his college talent show and win. This win motivated him to audition for the third season of American Idol in 2003, which made him an icon in the media for being notoriously bad but overwhelmingly positive despite his rejection. His positive attitude helped launch a career in entertainment, but after a few short years, the hype settled down and he started a new career as a crime analyst. Going through his second divorce several years later, William had a hard time staying positive. Thanks to a good friend, he found the inspiration to become a mentor and motivational speaker and got his positive spirit back. On top of his career in the speaking realm, William is also an avid and skilled poker player. In his free time, William also likes to play video games. His favorite is Final Fantasy. He may always be the “She Bangs” Guy, but he is also now an inspiration beyond that legacy.
Learn more about William Hung at: https://www.willhung.com/.
William Hung, 2019.
Written by Kristen Petronio | Edited by MJ