20 years after 'American Idol' fame, William Hung is rebuilding his life after gambling addiction

ByRob Hayes KABC logo
Thursday, February 1, 2024
'American Idol' off-key sensation William Hung working for LASD
Twenty years ago, William Hung become one of the country's most unlikely entertainment sensations following an enthusiastic but very off-key performance on "American Idol."

LOS ANGELES, California -- His voice may have been flat, but William Hung's enthusiastic and confident performance on "American Idol" 20 years ago was enough to endear him to millions - a fandom that still exists, though to a much lesser degree.

Hung seems to have experienced as many unplanned ups and downs as his singing voice in the time since his 2004 audition for the hit TV show went viral, putting him in the spotlight while still a student at the University of California Berkeley.

"I never thought that I would become a household name in less than 24 hours," Hung said. "Once they broadcast my audition, the next day I returned to school and people were asking me for pictures and autographs. I was like, 'What? What happened? What did I do?"

In the years that followed, Hung strung together a series of appearances and performances that turned his off-pitch voice into a successful moneymaker.

"I was on Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Kimmel many times," he told Eyewitness News. "I did commercials... it was crazy!"

Hung is now 41 years old, and will soon return to work as a crime analyst for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, a job he left several years ago to become a professional poker player.

Hung say that decision led to a serious gambling addiction and derailed his life, costing him his marriage and nearly breaking him.

He says his family and friends have helped get his life back on track and he looks forward to returning to the sheriff's department.

"It's a good way to start a new future," Hung said.