William Hung Has No Regrets About Infamous ‘American Idol’ Performance 20 Years Later

William Hung took the American Idol audition stage in 2004 and gave an unforgettable performance that took the world by storm. For better or worse, the 21-year-old became a sensation for his rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.” He was off-key, but went into the audition with passion and enthusiasm, which captured America’s attention.

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Now, 20 years after his infamous appearance on the show, Hung looks back with fondness and no regrets. He’s proud of the determination to get up in front of the judges—who were notoriously harsh back then—and feels that more people should follow their passion and take risks without fear of ridicule.

“I feel that everyone has a right to try something new without being judged or ridiculed,” Hung told NBC News recently. “It’s OK for people to enjoy themselves.” 

Hung became a trailblazer for Asian people on television, especially reality television. An immigrant from Hong Kong, he was often the butt of jokes for his accent and, of all things, his confidence in himself following the American Idol audition. He was billed as one of the “funny” auditions that always come through the show, used as comedic relief and to show off the “real talent.” This is a model that continues on today’s iteration of American Idol, with the most recent example being the guy who sang an original love song about peanut butter.

[RELATED: Abi Carter’s Immediate—and “Different”—Plans After ‘American Idol’ Win Should Be Music to Fans’ Ears]

William Hung Looks Back on His 2004 American Idol Audition with Pride

Hung kept his composure during his American Idol audition, even when faced with harsh comments from the judges. Simon Cowell even called him “one of the worst auditions we’ve had this year.” However, Hung persevered. That, for him, is a source of pride and accomplishment.

“I’m here for the opportunity to sing to America,” he said all those years ago in 2004. “I might not be the best singer around the world, but I know that I am singing from my heart.” 

America took his appearance on the show and ran with it, parodying him on Saturday Night Live and anywhere else it could get away with a mildly offensive caricature. The country carried on like William Hung wasn’t a real person with real feelings, but Hung said he was aware of the ridicule. He was determined to ignore it and focus on the positive reactions instead. Hung also went into the audition with low expectations, knowing he wasn’t going to make it into the competition. That, he said, helped him overcome the negativity.

“Randy would hold this white sheet of paper to cover up his face as he kept laughing. I already knew that I probably wasn’t going to make it,” said Hung. “Paula was smiling. Simon was frowning. I kept singing and dancing. I felt like ‘It’s OK. I don’t want to be angry and upset like some of the other contestants.’”

Now, Hung, 41, works as a senior stats analyst for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He got married, and still does motivational speaking, performing, and has even made appearances in movies and television. Following a gambling addiction, which his friends and family helped him recover from, he’s doing pretty well for himself currently.

Featured Image by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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