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An unlikely 'Idol'

He's an overnight sensation: a rising star with millions of fans. There's just no one else like WIlliam Hung. And maybe that's a good thing. 
William Hung performs during halftime of a University of California's men's volleyball game.Ben Margot / AP file
/ Source: NBC News

He's an overnight sensation: a rising star with millions of fans. There's just no one else like WIlliam Hung. And maybe that's a good thing.  “American Idol’s” newest discovery is a young man blessed with vitality, confidence and… talent?

There's no tougher way to make a living. But every now and then, the planets come together in the right way. And a star is born. Enter William Hung, a 21-year-old civil engineering student at the University of California at Berkeley. William was born in Hong Kong, but now, after an appearance on the TV show "American Idol" back on January 27, he's one of the hottest singers in this country.

Normally, once you get gonged on this show, you disappear. But this time, something strange happened. Within 24 hours, William's computer was flooded with e-mails and a number of Web sites sprang to life, glorifying his unusual performance and turning an on-air failure into an overnight success.

In a nation that once cheered underdogs like Harry Truman and the New York Mets, and which more lately has been willing to hand 15 minutes of fame to just about anyone, William Hung has found an audience.

William Hung: “My attitude reflects the one of American spirit, or American pioneer. Just going out there and not worry about, you know, how other people see it.”

That attitude, and William’s guileless charm, has put him all over your TV set. Still, William admits there's definite room for improvement.

Josh Mankiewicz: “You don't have any illusions about whether or not you're a good singer?”

Hung: “No, I don't have illusions. ‘Bad’ isn't the right word, though.”

Mankiewicz: “What is the right word?”

Hung: “Beginner. “

It's not the first time this nation swooned to a performer whose talent was open to debate. Tiny Tim was a flash in our cultural pan back in the 70s, not because his music was so beautiful, but because he was so strange.

Mankiewicz: “Do you ever worry that sort of the reason that you've become so famous is not because people are cheering for you, but because they're making fun of you?”

Hung: “There are people that are making fun of me? I know that. But regardless if they really like my performing ability, I thought like, ‘Well, this guy has the right attitude toward everything in life.’”

And so, while Web sites featuring him attract some 8 million hits, William keeps working on his act, hoping this fairytale has either a happy ending or perhaps, no ending.

Mankiewicz: “A month ago you were like this unknown civil engineering student. Today you're this guy who's got Web sites popping up with your name on them.  And women in Singapore lining up to marry you.”

Hung: “It's overwhelming. It's crazy. I never thought this 90 second audition would turn into this accidental but colossal fame.”

And amid the adulation, a music channel has offered William a record deal and $25,000 upfront if he signs it.

Mankiewicz: “You know that the thing about fame is that it can evaporate as quickly as it arrives?”

Hung: “Correct.”

Mankiewicz: “You ready to go back to being William Hung, unknown engineering student?”

Hung: “Not right now.” [laughter]

We said he was confident, but in what might turn out to be a seriously bad career move, William Hung has announced he is planning to take, well, singing lessons.