March 08, 2004


William Hung pic.jpg

The Exploitation of William Hung: Taking a Joke Too Far

Astute viewers of Fox's American Idol series know that the most entertaining episodes air at the start of a given season, when some of the most awful singers imaginable butcher familiar tunes in a cappella fashion, then await honest, face-to-face criticism from a panel of industry pros.

Inevitably, some castoffs vow to return the following season, and while nearly all of them are delusional about their vocal talents, they're smart enough to realize that it takes thick skin to persevere in the often-cruel entertainment industry.

Perhaps unbeknownst to recent Idol hopeful William Hung, he's the target of a different kind of cruelty. The media's celebration of Hung following his failure on the show is insulting to him, as well as a slap in the face to legitimate, struggling singers and musicians everywhere.

Earlier this season, Idol's third, the UC Berkeley civil engineering student performed an enthusiastic but very off-key and nerdy rendition of the Ricky Martin hit "She Bangs," complete with some very stiff dance moves. Judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, all being of sound mind, told Hung he didn't have what it takes to win the competition and didn't put him through to the next round.

That should have been the end of his music career, but since then, Hung has become a star of sorts, attracting a questionable cult following and performing at his school. He's been featured in major newspapers and national magazines. He's been spoofed on Saturday Night Live. And so, it really comes as no surprise that a full-length William Hung album is on its way, scheduled to be in stores April 6.

Koch Records and the Fuse Music Network, the companies behind Hung's recording contract and video production deal, should be ashamed by their actions and words.

"William is the perfect artist for our culturally diverse society," said Koch executive Alan Grunblatt in a recent press release. "He is the new Elvis!"

Don't start laughing just yet -- there's more.

"Fuse is thrilled that the network's first exclusive music video will be for William Hung's 'She Bangs' single," said Marc Juris, Fuse's president, in the same release. "He may not be the next American Idol, but he is definitely a star and inspiration to everyone who sings in the shower. Fuse sees itself in William -- except he dances better."

Clearly, this is an instance where business sense conquered good sense. Hung's fame is undeserved, and so is this opportunity. He should have been forgotten as quickly as the other failed Idol contestants. What's sad is that he's probably more popular now than Idol vet Justin Guarini -- the runner-up during the show's first season -- ever was.

The bottom line is this -- by signing Hung, Koch and Fuse have made a mockery of talented, deserving musicians, many of whom will never come close to such exposure.

From all accounts, Hung seems like a nice guy, and his acknowledgement on the show that he had no formal music training and that he tried his best was sincere and endearing. He seems to be enjoying his unexpected wave of success, not really sure or concerned whether people are laughing at him or with him -- much like the high-school loner who's invited to the cool kids' weekend party and makes the mistake of showing up, only to be ignored the entire time and avoided like the plague in the hallways come Monday morning. Maybe Hung's naivete will work in his favor when the wave finally crashes and he becomes an afterthought to the folks who have been supporting him. But the musicians who slug it out week after week performing in clubs, all the while dreaming of signing a recording contract, are likely to remember Hung for a long time to come.

-- By Chris M. Junior

Sounding Off, a music opinion column, will appear regularly on

Posted by medleyville at March 8, 2004 09:28 PM