It’s fitting that William Hung is going to enter the albums chart with a bang.
When figures are released Wednesday, industry insiders expect the “American Idol” reject to debut in the top 30 with sales between 30,000 to 40,000 copies.
Not Usher numbers — more in line with recent releases from Courtney Love, Drag-On and Hoobastank — but impressive considering that Hung, by most accounts, can’t sing.
“It’s sold far in excess of our expectations,” Fred Fox, a marketing VP at Trans World Entertainment, said Monday. Trans World owns several music-retail chains, including FYE, Coconuts and Planet Music. “I mean, you listen to the album, and I don’t profess to being an A&R guy, but I gotta tell you, it doesn’t move me,” Fox added with a laugh.
Inspiration, which includes Hung’s signature cover of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” (see “William Hung ‘Bangs’ Latin Lovers, R. Kelly Cover On Inspiration“ ), was the #5 best seller at Trans World stores last week. At the trendsetting Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, it was #14, just behind Modest Mouse.
So who in their right mind would buy this album?
People looking for a laugh, according to Sharon Vitro, operations manager at the Tower on Sunset. “We had a couple of girls come in Tuesday morning right when we opened to buy it, and they looked like they might think he’s cute or something, but other than that it’s been mostly, ‘I can’t believe this guy has an album out,’ and they pick it up and buy it,” Vitro said. “I can’t really see people playing it more than once.”
Fox said he feels people are drawn to Hung’s personality and are willing to overlook his tuneless singing. “Compared to some of the other crap on the radio, it’s no better or no worse, and they like what he stands for,” he explained. “It really comes down to people cheering on the little guy. There’s no doubt this is someone who’s doing it for the love of music, unencumbered by expectation.”
Perhaps telling of Hung’s appeal are the many T-shirts selling online, which quote inspirational lines from his infamous “American Idol” audition — including “I already gave my best” and “I have no regrets at all.”
“His reaction to the criticism was so polite,” said Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at Billboard magazine. “He’s not the first horrible-sounding person we’ve heard during the early weeks of ‘American Idol,’ he’s just the first that really connected. And the fact that his name is Hung probably helped.”
Mayfield pointed out that Hung isn’t the first bad singer to sell albums. A housewife who went by the name Mrs. Miller scored a #15 hit in the mid-1960s with a collection of off-key covers that included the smash “Downtown.” And Tiny Tim was a smash a few years later, despite having a horrible voice. “If you look at the history of this kind, I guess we were about due for something like this to happen,” Mayfield said.
The Billboard editor also noted Hung’s massive media blitz, which included high-profile appearances on several TV shows. “He even did ‘Leno’ in L.A. one night and the ‘Today’ show in New York the next morning,” Mayfield said. “Not even the big names do that.”
Nigel Lythgoe, co-executive producer of “American Idol,” believes America is enjoying rooting for something different. “In the U.K. we have supported losers for a long time, probably because we don’t get that many winners nowadays,” he said. “Not everyone in this life can be winners, and to celebrate a loser is fantastic.”
Whatever their reasons, fans of all demographics are picking up Inspiration. “There’s been middle-aged people, college kids, real young kids, all across the board,” Vitro said.
Alan Grunblatt, general manager and executive vice president of Koch Records, which signed the 21-year-old UC Berkeley engineering student, admits Hung’s accent makes the music funny, but he believes Hung’s skills are nothing to laugh at. “He’s taking lessons,” Grunblatt said, “and I think in a year from now he’s going to be a really talented singer. I would sign 10 more people just like him.”
Grunblatt, who also praised Hung’s sincere personality, said the key to the album’s success has been the speed with which the label was able to capitalize on William Hung mania. “We put this together in five weeks,” he boasted. “The people behind Paris Hilton’s album should have done the same thing, because it might be too late.”
Koch moved so fast, Grunblatt said, that Inspiration only made it into about half of the country’s record stores last week. For that reason, he expects the album to keep climbing the chart.
Tower’s Vitro, however, isn’t as optimistic. “I can’t imagine it going along for more than another week,” she said. “After that, it should go into oblivion.”
One place the album will likely not disappear is in the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse. The team has a 4-0 record when it listens to Hung’s CD while warming up; when the players tried different music before Sunday’s game, the boys in blue lost 4-2.
” ‘She Bangs’ is classic,” Shawn Green told reporters. “It’s our victory song.”
The whole Hung scenario is baffling to “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest. “For whatever reason, people just like to watch William Hung,” he said. “There are times when I think it’d be a great joke on all of us if we find out that William knew that he was bad the whole time, and just decided to play it out because it was fun.”