Hung: Out to Dry

Voting Americans will soon be faced with an important and difficult decision, and of course I don’t mean the presidential election, because that decision is easy: Don’t vote for anyone who looks like an evil clown, which means John Kerry is OUT.

The important and difficult decision that looms large on the horizon like a large, looming thing is the one where we select our next American Idol. Do not treat this lightly! We have the power, with our touch-tone phones and our fingers, to change people’s lives forever. (You with rotary phones and/or no fingers are powerless.) Why, first-season winner Kelly Clarkson is now so famous that her face is being used on currency in the Southern states, and second-season idol Ruben Studdard can’t even leave the house anymore, and I mean he CAN’T leave the house, at least not without greasing the doorway first. Even Clay Aiken, who was runner-up in the second competition, is absurdly famous — and he’s NOT EVEN HUMAN!

So we must use our votes carefully. Unfortunately, “American Idol” is in its dull semi-finalist phase right now, as each week several half-talented losers are trotted out, paraded around like ponies, and then sent packing. (Again, you may draw your own comparisons to the presidential primaries.) The terrible singers highlighted during the early audition episodes are entertaining because of their badness and arrogance, and the excellent singers we hear in the final weeks are entertaining because, um, they’re good, and good stuff is entertaining. But the mediocre ones? BORING. If I wanted to see talent that was merely average, I’d start attending community theater.

Now, not everyone supports “American Idol” and its democratically elected objects of worship. I refer you to a letter to the editor printed in the March 4 edition of The Daily Universe, the student newspaper at Brigham Young University, written by one Sarah Phelps:

“Isn’t the word ‘idol’ in ‘American Idol’ the same word used in the scriptures? [Very good, Sarah! Now find two more words that are the same! No, ‘there’ and ‘their’ only SOUND the same. Try again, sweetie!] Isn’t idol worship still a bad thing? [Meh. Idol worship is sooo Old Testament.] I’ll admit that I’ve seen a few episodes of last season’s contest, but only so that I can personally attest to both the extreme idiocy and addictiveness of this TV show. [What, you watched the show as part of a science experiment?] What sounds more stupid to you: kneeling before a golden cow, or sitting before a glowing TV screen with a phone in hand, ready at a moment’s notice to mash trembling fingers into cell phone buttons as soon as Ryan Seacrest winks and says the lines are open? [Mormon ‘Idol’ contestant] John Preator says, ‘The Mormon community, for some reason, has a huge draw to “American Idol.”‘ I say that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.” [Avoid reading the news out of Bosnia or Ethiopia, then.]

So, just as America has communists and anarchists living within its borders, “American Idol” has its detractors, too. And I confess I’m having a hard time dealing with something created by “American Idol,” and that something is William Hung.

William Hung is an engineering student at Berkeley whose dreadful, arrhythmic rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” was played over and over again during the early weeks of the current “American Idol” season, precisely because it was so bad that it was hysterically funny to watch. William is from Hong Kong, speaks with an accent, is not what you’d call “handsome” (I am being charitable; in parentheses I can tell you that he is altogether strange-looking), and possesses not an ounce of musical talent or even basic charisma. If he were an ice cream, he would be vanilla with nerdberries.

But after his audition was shown, William went on to capture the heart of all America with his pluck and indomitable spirit! By which I mean, America has rallied together to mock him. He was asked to appear on talk shows and radio programs, all with the unstated goal of ridiculing him further. Here is a guy with no discernible talent who nonetheless appeared on a televised talent show; laughing at his laughable performance is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, especially if he is so clueless as to continue performing for audiences who are only snickering at him.

“American Idol” even invited him back for a special show, called “Uncut, Uncensored and Untalented,” where rejected contestants were reunited and given another chance to suck, which they all did, marking the first time in their careers that they’d met anyone’s expectations. During this show, audience members were permitted to ask questions that they had clearly rehearsed with producers beforehand, and which perhaps the producers had written for them. One girl asked William, “Do you have a girlfriend?,” in a lame, quasi-sexy manner that she was obviously uneasy with. She and the show were making more jokes at William’s expense, pretending to suggest that now he was some kind of sex symbol, sort of like inviting the least-popular girl in school to the prom just so you can pour pig’s blood on her. Except William didn’t know it was pig’s blood, because he thinks pig’s blood and genuine praise are the same thing. (I am speaking metaphorically. In practical terms, I’m sure he can differentiate between swine gore and a compliment.)

And now it’s gone too far, people. TOO FAR! William Hung has a recording contract. The Associated Press reports that the Fuse Music Network and Koch Records have signed him to record an album, “The True Idol,” to be released April 6, and to produce a video in connection with it.

Fuse president Marc Juris says, “He may not be the next American Idol, but he is definitely a star and inspiration to everyone who sings in the shower,” which may be true, but I don’t think most shower-singers would expect anyone to buy their albums. That’s why they sing in the shower, not in the recording studio.

But Koch Records general manager Alan Grunblatt, displaying a remarkable lack of common sense, declared, “(William Hung) is the new Elvis!” That’s right, the new Elvis. They do have a lot in common, in the sense that both William and Elvis are carbon-based life forms, and in the sense that neither one will ever record another album.

This needs to stop. The joke’s over. We saw the audition, we made him do it again and again for our amusement, like when you tell the town drunk you’ll give him some whisky if he’ll dance for you, and now it’s just getting sad. (With William, I mean. The town drunk thing will ALWAYS be funny.) If you buy his CD, not only will you be encouraging him to continue performing EVEN THOUGH HE IS UNTALENTED, but face it, within six months, you’ll be embarrassed you bought it. Again, sort of like the election.

My brother/webmaster Jeff wanted me to also mention that John Kerry looks like he is made of wood. I toyed with some Pinocchio/evil clown references, but couldn't find a way to make them fit. But I wanted to make you aware, if you were not already, that John Kerry resembles an evil wooden clown. Just so you know.

It was purely an accident that I saw the issue of The Daily Universe containing Sarah Phelps' letter; I don't read that paper regularly, but someone happened to have a copy and I glanced at it. Subsequently, when I realized I needed the letter, I was dismayed to find it was not on the Universe's Web site, so I had to visit the office to obtain a copy of the paper it had appeared in.

You may recall I worked at the Universe from 1997-1999, when I was a student at BYU. It had been two years since I'd had occasion to visit the paper, and it was odd to return, as it always is when you go back somewhere that you don't belong anymore. My memories of working there are almost all extremely fond. Most of the bad stuff happened in administrators' offices and in conference rooms, not there in the newsroom. The newsroom was just fun, and occasionally productive.