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Oh baby, when he moves, he moves

William Hung is no Ricky Martin, but few seem to care. His rendition of She Bangs has made him American Idol's latest star reject.

By Wire services
Published February 21, 2004

BERKELEY, Calif. - The American Idol judges said William Hung bombed with his gotta-see-it-to-believe-it rendition of Ricky Martin's She Bangs.

But rejection turned out to have a silver - maybe even platinum - lining. In the weeks since he got booted by the TV talent show, Hung, 21, has become an insta-Net celebrity (www.williamhung.net) sought after by talk shows, record producers and Idol dreamers everywhere.

By now, unless your TV set is permanently tuned to PBS, you've probably seen Hung in action, arms waving over his head, hips following the beat of an entirely different drummer as he cheerfully attacks Martin's song.

The song fights back; the song wins. And yet the mild-mannered civil engineering student is undeniably charming, his reedy tenor bringing a boyish exuberance to the sexy lyrics.

"I love him! I love him!" Ellen DeGeneres told her talk show audience while laughing after Hung went on to perform an abbreviated version of Shake Your Bon Bon, another Martin song (Hung is a huge Ricky fan).

What has people so hung up on Hung?

Is it the shy, toothy smile? The accent?

The dance moves, just a few funks short of funkadelic?

His fans say it's all that, combined with his fearless - or clueless, if you ask caustic Idol judge Simon Cowell - pursuit of an unlikely dream.

Hung, who was born in Hong Kong and moved to Southern California with his family as a child, has always been interested in music. But he was concentrating on a steadier line of work, studying at the University of California, Berkeley, until he won a dorm talent contest singing, of course, She Bangs.

Last September, he decided to try out for American Idol in San Francisco, appearing before judges Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.

Cowell stopped him with a curt, "You can't sing, you can't dance, so what do you want me to say?"

Said Hung, "I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all."

The judges were disarmed but not swayed by his cheerful sincerity. Producers put the segment on the air as an example of how not to be.

But Hung evoked more support than schadenfreude.

"Everyone's having fun with it," says Jared Levy, a fellow UC-Berkeley student and Cal volleyball player, who was so impressed by Hung that he invited him to sing at a game this week.

"Will! Will! Will!" the crowd screamed as Hung launched into She Bangs with the backing of a sextet of nubile young dancers, whose key move turned out to be avoiding getting walked into by Hung.

Fame has made it hard for Hung to walk around campus without someone recognizing him. He admits to struggling with his studies.

Still, Hung is determined to graduate as planned and is still calling music his hobby. The music channel Fuse and New York-based record company Koch Entertainment offered him a record contract and music video production deal, but the offer, made after Hung's volleyball singing gig, drew a polite smile but no immediate acceptance.

He's grateful for fan support and the thousands of people who have signed online petitions trying to get American Idol to invite him back. Reportedly, the show wants him for a "loser" special, "Uncut, Uncensored and Untalented." Hung was noncommittal about that.

Hung seems to suspect some people are laughing at him, not with him, but he's not letting that get him down. He's taking singing lessons and says every time he sings She Bangs, "there's always something to work on, something to improve."

[Last modified February 21, 2004, 01:31:48]

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