This, America, is what Paula Abdul has wrought. Whine all you want about Simon Cowell being cruel or mean, but he does offer constructive criticism from a vantage point that some singers are good, most are bad, and that there is merit in sorting them out. By refusing to issue nothing more than soft, fuzzy words of encouragement, Paula implies that there's nearly equal merit in all singers since it's all a form of expression, and who are we to judge the difference? An ironic sentiment coming from a judge, but that sentiment has seeped into society, and has provided defenders of William Hung with a convenient excuse to laugh at the Berkeley student turned pop-culture sensation -- sure, he's a terrible singer, but it's coming from his heart! Now that may be true -- though truly, who can tell what's from the heart? (as the Coen Brothers say, "nobody knows anybody, at least not that well") -- but who cares? The whole reason that Hung has a record is that people like to laugh at his singing. And that's something that Simon never planned on -- that people like novelty records that sometimes they want to laugh at, as well as be moved by, music. And to some, no bad singer on American Idol has ever been as bad or endearing as Hung.
It's an American Idol tradition to load up the early weeks with singers who are clearly, hilariously bad. Sometimes, they make enough of an impact to stay around for a couple of weeks -- you'll remember that girl from the first season who was ubiquitous until the competition actually got underway and now you can barely remember her name -- but usually once the competition swings into high gear, most of the laughably bad singers are gone. Hung, somehow, defied expectations and turned into a phenomenon. There were other singers who were worse -- how about the girl who tunelessly scatted through "Route 66" -- but Hung was special, probably because he had so little range and he was maniacally driven, not even noticing when the judges had broken down in laughter. It also could have been due to his absurd choice of audition material, the atrocious fluff of "She Bangs," Ricky Martin's flop sequel to "Living La Vida Loca." Hung sang it as if the song meant something to him even though he didn't understand the words, which gave the Berkeley civil engineering student innocence or, to some of his harsher critics, the appearance of being mildly retarded. All of this fed the phenomenon as American Idol brought him back repeatedly, and then he started appearing all over the place, most notably on Keith Olberman's Countdown on MSNBC, which plugged him incessantly. Koch leapt at the opportunity to sign Hung and quickly churned out an album, Inspiration, since a phenomenon like this is clearly short-lived, as are all novelty records. Another key to novelty records is that they're at their best when they're short, which is why they're usually singles, not full-length albums, and Inspiration would have been much better as a four-track single or EP since there are really only four tracks of note and that's about all that anybody could take of this anyway. That's not just because Hung is a terrible, terrible, terrible singer -- not only incapable of hitting notes, he can't stay in key within his own range and he mangles every word he sings -- but because this a chintzy, cheap production. That should be no surprise for something produced so quickly and cheaply, but this is nothing more than bad karaoke captured on record, from the instrumentals to the vocals. It makes this pretty tough sledding over the course of 45 minutes, even when it's broken up by the "Inspirational Thoughts" that are more pathetic than funny since they suggest that Hung really does believe the line that since he has "passion" and is "being [him]self" that he's a good singer, when the album thoroughly disproves that naïve notion. For those ready to laugh, this is still worth a chuckle or two since it has some of the worst singing ever captured on record. If you're one of those people, skip over "She Bangs," which has been polished a little bit and sounds conventional, and head right toward "Hotel California," fast forward to "Rocket Man," and then double back and end with "I Believe I Can Fly," easily the worst moment on the album, which means it's also the best; the wordless vocalizing on the last minute alone defies all expectations. Those three songs are so awful that they will indeed transcend Hung's brief moment in the spotlight to stand as novelty classics -- which ain't the same thing as a good record, but it's probably going to be more than Jon Stevens, Camile Velasco, Leah LaBelle, or probably even John Peter Lewis and Fantasia Barrino will leave us with, when you think about it. Seacrest...OUT!