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William Hung shares how his legendary ‘American Idol’ audition came together 18 years ago

“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.

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