William Hung sat at a lonely card table beneath the grandstands of Mills Field. He wore an oversized Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers jersey, a gift from the team that hired him to increase the gate and entertain the locals at Tuesday's game against last-place Thunder Bay.
A baseball game is going on behind him, but his presence has drawn spectators into the concourse in search of an autograph or a picture. You can see the excitement in their faces.
He signs programs and cards and tickets and bats and balls. A young girl asks him to sign her arm. Hung shakes his head apologetically.
"He said he can't sign bodies," the girl tells her giggling group of friends moments later, outside of earshot.
William Hung of 'American Idol' fame sang "Achy Breaky Heart" at the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers game Tuesday at Mills Field. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey
An older gentleman pulls two $1 bills from his pocket and lays them on the table.
"No, no," Hung says, his right hand shaking in front of him. "I can't sign money."
"No money?" the man asks, confused.
"It's against the law," Hung says.
Hung's father, Henry, sits 10 feet away in a lawn chair, silently watching the people.
Hung's life changed forever in 2004 when his audition for "American Idol" was aired. He quickly became a new-age celebrity of the "YouTube" generation.
"I want to make music my living," Hung told the camera earnestly before beginning his audition.
He sang "She Bangs," gyrating his arms and hips enthusiastically. Judge Randy Jackson covered his face with scratch paper to hide his laughter. Simon Cowell, AI's famous curmudgeon, stopped the performance with an extended hand.
"You can't sing, you can't dance, so what do you want me to say?" Cowell said.
William Hung delivered the ceremonial first pitch to start the game. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey
"I already gave my best and I have no regrets at all," Hung replied. Jackson and Paula Abdul's applauded.
"I have no professional training of singing or dancing," Hung told the judges.
"No! Well there's the surprise of the century," Cowell replied.
Was it the song, the production, or the surreal interaction after it was over that resonated with the audience? Difficult to say, although Hung, for the record, believes it was the way he stood up to Cowell.
"I just told him, and the judges, that I gave my best and I have no regrets," Hung said. "People really like that response, you know? It's like a sign of composure. It tells people that you don't have to give up; you don't have to feel bad just because you didn't make it.
"And, I don't feel bad just because I didn't make it because a lot of people don't make it. So what, you know? Life goes on. You have a lot of things ahead of you."
And so he does. Hung has since appeared on "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Early Show," and been interviewed by David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, amongst others.
"Of course I appreciate the opportunity," Hung said. "But I wouldn't thank Simon (for it). I would thank my fans for it. Because that's where my support comes from.
"It seems like no matter where I go, everybody recognizes me: 'That's the She Bangs guy!' They will ask me for autographs and pictures."
Hung is asked how many autographs he has signed in the last five years.
"I can't count them all," he said. "Lets just say it's too many."
Tens of thousands?
"No. More than that. In the millions."
"Yeah," Hung replies, nodding his head genuinely. "Definitely."
Does it ever get old?
"I think its OK," Hung said. "But sometimes when I have to hurry to some place or do something, it's a little bit inconvenient."
Hung was born in Hong Kong and moved to the United States when he was in 10. He was studying civil engineering at the University of California when he auditioned for "American Idol."
"I recognized that the phenomenon was possible once they broadcast the audition," Hung said. "Because on the same night that they broadcast the audition I received over 150 e-mails from like "Entertainment Tonight," movie companies, things like that. It was a sudden boom."
Today, he lives in Los Angeles and leads a busy life.
"I actually have no typical day," Hung said. "It depends what I'm meant to do that day. Sometimes I am invited to interviews, sometimes I take vocal lessons, sometimes I do promotions for my record company. So no typical day."
Hung threw out the first pitch Tuesday, winding up Hideo Nomo-esque and bouncing his throw short of the plate.
He sang "Achy Breaky Heart" before the top of the fifth inning, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the middle of the seventh, and his infamous rendition of "She Bangs" before the top of the eighth.
"She Bangs" jolts the crowd in an otherwise sloppily-played 3-2 Border Cats victory. Some fans rise, clap and yell.
Hung swivels his hips and shakes his hands while singing and it all looks very much like a rehearsed version of the audition he gave more than five years ago. But he looks like he is having fun and he says he is happy with the direction his life has taken since he became the most unlikely of television sensations.
When the music stops, the crowd goes bonkers and Hung walks hurriedly from the field. A player playfully slaps him on the butt as he heads for the field's exit.
"He sure makes people smile, doesn't he?" a Lunkers employee marvels in the press box.
Everyone in the room nods.
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