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American Idol’s William Hung: Champion by Choice (ep. 196)

William Hung

John O’Leary welcomes American Idol’s William Hung to the Live Inspired Podcast as he shares about taking chances and becoming a champion by choice.

How do you handle situations that feel like massive setbacks? How do you react when you’re told, “it can’t be done,” “you’re not good enough,” or “you’re destined to be a failure?”

William Hung has received that harsh feedback many times. The most memorable was when he was laughed off the stage by American Idol judges for his rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs”.

Those that  laughed, judged + critiqued missed what was actually happening: the power of an individual believing in his dreams.

Today’s conversation is truly heart-warming. William shares about taking chances, the courage to fail forward, and rising above cynics to become a champion by choice and smiling every step of the way.

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  • William’s mother was very supportive + encouraged him to do his best in a school.
  • During high school, William excelled in math and science but struggled academically while studying civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • William won a talent show at UC Berkeley singing Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs”, giving him the confidence to audition for American Idol days later.
  • Recalling the 2004 American Idol audition, William knew he wouldn’t advance to the next round because of Randy Jackson’s immediate reaction.
  • “I already gave my best. I have no regrets at all.”: William’s response after Simon Cowell’s comment, “You can’t sing. You can’t dance. What do you want me to say?”
  • The primary motivations for continuing with his singing career was not money but defending who he is and counteract others making things up about him.
  • William remembers watching other auditions from his season and seeing contestants getting so angry they’d throw water bottles. He understood that the judges were just playing their roles + doing their job and it was no reason to get upset.
  • During a UC Berkeley volleyball game, a record company presented William a $25,000 check to record a record album. It went on to hit #1 on the independent charts.
  • “It doesn’t matter if you have the most talent. It matters if you can bring happiness with your entertainment.”
  • “You are already unique. You are already special. Keep believing in that truth. Do not give up and you will succeed.”
  • “I’m infamous, and some people think, a joke. That doesn’t make me feel good because I am a genuine person. I don’t let it get to me because I am who I am.”
  • “It’s not what they say. It’s what you choose to hear.”
  • “Looking back on my American Idol experience, I realize Randy was smiling. Paula was smiling. Even Simon was smiling. I realize when people saw me, I freed them to smile.”
  • Today, William is a professional motivational speaker + hopes his audiences choose to be happy in their lives
  • “I don’t feel the need to justify my value.”
  • Watch William Hung’s American Idol audition here.
  • Listen to William Hung’s TEDx Talk here.
  • William Hung’s latest book Champion by Choice inspires others to choose to be happy by rising above the haters. Get a copy here.

If you enjoyed hearing William Hung’s story, you’ll love my conversation with Lizzie Velasquez. Lizzie shares her positivity, her life’s work at spreading kindness, and how she’s standing up to bullies. Listen on ep. 71.


1. What is the best book you’ve ever read? Tapping into Wealth by Margaret Lynch.

2. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today? I still have that kid in me.

3. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be?My wallet. I’m very practical!

4. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be? Ricky Martin. My first question would be, “What kind of impact do you want your music to make on others?”

5. What is the best advice you’ve ever received? The only way you can fail is if you give up.

6. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self? Find a true talent instead of randomly putting yourself out there on American Idol.

7. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read? Live your best life and have no regrets.


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