In light of the news that the next and 15th season of American Idol will be its last, take a look back at the best of the worst auditions.
William Hung was a civil engineering student at Berkeley when he achieved viral fame in 2004 with a painfully off-key version of “She Bangs” by Ricky Martin. Despite having no professional training, Hung developed a cult following, landed a record deal and released three albums before retiring from music and becoming a statistical analyst at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“Pants on the Ground”
In 2010, an Atlanta man who called himself General Larry Platt performed a song he wrote called “Pants on the Ground” about men who “look like a fool” in sagging trousers. He didn’t make the competition, but he did become a meme, inspiring numerous parodies, including spoofs by Jimmy Fallon—who sung it as Neil Young—and Brett Favre, who, as quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, led a rendition in the team’s locker room.
“Go Down Moses (Let My People Go)”
Judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul had to cover their faces to hide their laughter at James Lewis’s rendition of “Go Down Moses” in 2008.
In his 2007 audition, Martin Manoukian whipped off his shirt and crawled on the floor, meowing and snarling, because he was convinced he was a panther—a build-up to his audition song “Sweetest Princess” that judge Simon Cowell called “horrific.”
Steven Thoen of Seattle (aka “Red”) told Simon Cowell he is as good a singer as Queen’s Freddie Mercury.
“Tearin’ Up My Heart”
After 23-year-old Kenneth Briggs from Bothell, Wash., performed the NYSNC hit, Cowell said he looked “a little odd… like one of those creatures who live in the jungle with those massive eyes. What are they called? Bush baby.” The jab raised questions about whether the judge’s critiques had hit a new low, but Briggs—along with Jonathan Jayne, another aspiring contestant who got dinged—ended up going to Super Bowl festivities in 2007 with Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Claiming to be a professional clairvoyant, Isadora Furman thought a spot on American Idol was in the cards even though she admitted that sometimes when she sings in public she gets “arrested.” Cowell on the other hand, thought her audition was “fantastically terrible.”
Nicholas Zitzmann, a 27-year-old software engineer from Midvale, Utah, won over the judges with a cringeworthy version of “Unchained Melody,” which Simon has said is his favorite song.
“I Feel the Earth Move”
Cowell called Mary Roach, who sang the classic Carole King hit, one of the worst singers he had ever heard. Roach then told the judges she hears “a ton” of “different voices,” including one that said, “I didn’t know the judges on American Idol would actually think I was terrible.” At the 5-minute mark of this clip, she has a profanity-laced breakdown, insisting the judges were wrong.
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does
- Column: The New Antisemitism
- The 13 Best New Books to Read in March
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Write to Olivia B. Waxman at firstname.lastname@example.org