It was the bang heard around the world. On this day 20 years ago, Ricky Martin released “She Bangs,” the first single from his album “Sound Loaded.” Written by Desmond Child, Walter Afanasieff, Robi Draco Rosa and Glenn Monroig, the infectious dance hit peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Martin his second-most successful single behind “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and earning the Puerto Rican star a Grammy nomination in 2001.
The song was an extension of the Latin explosion which arrived on the eve of the millenium but it would return four years later when an impressionable 20-year-old civil engineering student auditioned with “She Bangs” on “American Idol” and truly made it his own. In that one moment, with then-judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson looking on bewildered, William Hung became an instant phenomenon.
Hung asserted his desire to make a living in the music industry, bravely performing the song to an unimpressed Cowell, who snarled, “You can’t dance; you can’t sing; what do you want me to say?”
Responded Hung: “I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all.”
With that, Hung became a household name and a go-to punchline, like in “The Office” in 2005 when BJ Novak’s character Ryan remarks to Todd Packer (David Koechner), whose license plate reads “WLHUNG,” “You a big William Hung fan?” (Watch it below.)
Hung went on to release three albums, including “Inspiration” and “Hung for the Holidays,” and even his own movie, “Where is Mama’s Boy?” While he eventually retired from music, his “Idol” experience allowed him to book gigs as a motivational speaker while working for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as a crime analyst and later for the Department of Health. Today, he continues to appear in public and is now working on teaching online gamers how to play Mahjong.
Today, Hung still has no regrets. “It’s all about continuing to reinvent yourself, and figure out what makes you happy,” he tells Variety in a new interview.
“She Bangs” turns 20 this month. What does it mean to you?
First of all, I’m grateful to have that song, “She Bangs,” by Ricky Martin because otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today. I just enjoyed the song right from the beginning. I thought it sounded cool and very upbeat. It was unique compared to everything else I was hearing back in the early two thousands. I heard on the radio and I was attracted to it right away.
So then you decided to audition with it. Was it just because it was your favorite song? Were there other choices?
What happened was that I won the talent show in school singing that same song. So that’s what gave me the confidence to audition.
Looking back on your audition day, did the producers prepare you to go in with the judges? What were you expectations?
Not too much. I was just waiting, visualizing in my head how I wanted my audition to go. I didn’t expect anything, and that’s really why I was able to stay positive despite the harsh criticism of Simon Cowell.
And when you smiled and said you did your best, the judges kind of fell in love with you anyway.
The way I saw the judges, I felt like they were just playing their roles. So that’s why I didn’t feel the need to be angry or upset.
That was a great precedent that you set for future auditioners, and then it set you on this whole other path in life…
Yeah, I didn’t expect that. I just thought, well, the audition didn’t work out, I’ll go back to being a normal student, but instead I somehow became an overnight celebrity.
What was it like finally coming face to face with Ricky Martin?
I finally got to perform with him in 2018. So that’s like two years ago. And then my audition was in 2004. So that’s 14 years later. He said, “Thank you, and it was great meeting you.” I don’t know. It sounds so surreal. He’s a really nice guy. My friend and I, we were very impressed.
You are now a motivational speaker. How did that come about and what do you focus on in your talks?
I decided to get into motivational speaking about three or four years ago, because I feel that I can make it a bigger impact through speaking, compared to just entertainment alone. I could still be entertaining, but I want to have a message to inspire people to keep chasing their dreams. And now more than ever, we need that inspiration, because it is a tough world to survive in, with the coronavirus pandemic. I’m also very interested in gaming because that’s my passion right now. I am looking to teach people how to play Japanese Mahjong for the English audiences.
Your Twitter handle is @SheBangsGuy. Clearly you’ve come to terms with this moment having a permanent place in your life story?
A lot of people still call me the “She Bangs” guy. They don’t remember my name. It’s part of my identity now. Sometimes in life, you can’t change the past. You don’t have control over the past, but what you can do is make the most out of your situation.