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‘American Idol’ alumnus William Hung’s marriage imploded due to his gambling addiction. How He Survived Rock Bottom” (Exclusive)

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Twenty years after going viral with his ‘American Idol’ audition, Hung tells PEOPLE about overcoming his darkest moments — and how he found a fresh start



<p>Christopher Willard/ABC via Getty</p>
<p> William Hung in 2021 ” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/BEmEocIc4nXuhaI4KY6ZYA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/a5ab84cf505024 2534648179b592232a” /></p>
<p>Christopher Willard/ABC via Getty</p>
<p> William Hung in 2021 ” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/BEmEocIc4nXuhaI4KY6ZYA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/a5ab84cf505024 2534648179b592232a” class=”caas-img”/><button class=

Christopher Willard/ABC via Getty

William Hung in 2021

William Hung certainly never set out to become a viral sensation.

But when he auditioned for American Idol in San Francisco in 2004 during the show’s third season with an off-key rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs,” which is exactly what happened to the UC Berkeley engineering student.

“It was all very surprising,” Hung, now 41, tells PEOPLE of becoming a household name after his audition, which aired on January 15, 2004. “I didn’t expect that. I had no other expectations when I went in then started thinking it would be fun.”

Hung’s audition was memorable for a number of reasons. He was only twenty years old at the time and had been living in the US for ten years after emigrating from Hong Kong with his family. He had a childlike innocence that the cameras loved.

Hung recalls that producers sought him out for a pre-audition interview, and when he walked on stage he told the judges that singing was his passion.

“I may not be the best singer, but I sing from my heart,” he told judges Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell.

Viewers held their breath, hoping that Hung could be the next unexpected musical sensation: someone who didn’t look like a typical pop star but had undeniable talent.

Related: Randy Jackson Reveals How He Hit 100 Lb. Weight loss 18 years after gastric bypass surgery

That didn’t happen.

Hung’s off-court singing and his quirky dance moves had the judges laughing from the start. After his performance, Cowell – famous for his sharp criticism – told Hung it was “one of the worst auditions we’ve had this year.”

“I mean, everything was grotesque,” ​​Cowell underlined.

Cowell’s criticism was vicious, but the words didn’t seem to bother Hung. “I tried all my best and I don’t regret it at all,” he told Cowell, earning him praise and encouragement from Abdul and Jackson.

Today, Hung still has that cheerful attitude, and he believes it’s the reason he became famous in the first place.

“Most people would be angry or upset or throw their water bottle at him,” he says. “I didn’t see the need to do that, and people seemed to like it.”

His TV moment changed the course of his life.

Hung left Berkeley and actually pursued a musical career. “I had my moment at the top,” he says of singing. “My first album, Inspirationwas the No. 1 independent album on the Billboard charts.

Related: ‘American Idol”s Most Memorable Contestants: Where Are They Now?

He also had small roles in shows such as Arrested development (he played himself) and appeared in several commercials. He appeared in some Chinese films and also became a motivational speaker.

But soon the music and entertainment industry stopped calling.

“In this situation, very few people can stay at the top for long,” he says of viral fame. “So after a while I thought, I don’t want to waste my life, so I went back to school, finished my studies and got a steady job. That was fine with me. I had already gotten more out of it American Idol than I could ever have expected.”



<p>20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett</p>
<p> William Hung played himself in Arrested Development in 2006″ src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/giaKW9SAJOvzIMyzviLHwg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en /people_218/216f2a75d64de4efcaee2ddc8f3cd511″/></p>
<p>20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett</p>
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20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy of Everett

William Hung played himself in Arrested Development in 2006

After earning a degree and an MBA in mathematics, Hung took a job with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, where he worked as a statistical analyst. “I like data, playing with numbers and computers, so I enjoyed it,” he says.

But another career called.

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“Three years ago I quit my job and became a professional poker player,” he says with a laugh. “I had been doing it on the side for a while and decided that maybe I was good enough to go for it. I earned a lot more doing that than with my regular job. Things went well for a while.”

And then it collapsed.

“Unfortunately, I developed a gambling addiction,” he says. “I knew I was good at poker, but then I got greedy. I started betting on sports. The whole spectrum. I know better (now). I wasn’t supposed to do those things, but I did it anyway,” he says. say. “And I paid for it. I got divorced and I learned that I had to be smart about taking risks.”

In a candid post on his LinkedIn profile about a year ago, Hung told his followers it was “time to deal with” his addiction.

“Things went downhill quickly when my ex-wife discovered you,” he wrote in a final letter about his gambling problem. “One day I came home from work and she started asking me all these questions about why I was so nervous at every sporting event and why I was always tired… How do you think that went – with all the money I could have used to improve our lives – gone? I’ll give you a hint: it ended with the filing for divorce.

Related: Fantasia Barrino on her personal struggles afterward American Idol: ‘I’ve lost a lot’ (exclusive)

Once again Hung got back to his feet.

He married his third wife Hannah last year and decided to return to his old job analyzing data for the Sheriff’s Department.

He also hopes to start a family. “It’s a work in progress,” he says of his efforts to have a baby with his wife.



<p>M. Caulfield/WireImage</p>
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<p>M. Caulfield/WireImage</p>
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M. Caulfield/WireImage

William Hung in a music video recording in 2004

After overcoming his ups and downs, Hung is excited about the future and says he will continue to pursue entertainment activities on the side (he says he is very popular on Cameo).

But these days, stability is the most important thing for him. “There’s nothing wrong with having a steady job after fame,” he says. “I think it’s the right thing to do now to take care of my family.”

Related: Simon Cowell makes a rare appearance with son Eric, 9, on America has talent Final — See Photos!

When it comes to his motivational speaking engagements, the biggest point he emphasizes to people is that attitude is everything.

“I remind people to expect the unexpected, and that no matter what happens, having a positive outlook on life helps. It’s a choice to see the good in a potentially bad situation, or see the good in the potentially bad people who might try to That’s the way I reframe my thinking. Instead of feeling bad for myself, I think, how can I make this more mutually beneficial?

Oh, and when he meets people on the street and they ask him “She Bangs?”

“I have more favorite songs,” he says, laughing. “Ask Me for ‘Just Dance!'”

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