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  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

She Bangs! She Bangs! Ooh, Baby, I'm William Hung Over!

Ben Fong-Torres

American Idol reject William Hung gets an extended 15 minutes of fame, and Kim Wong Keltner's first novel sets off an online firestorm.

AsianConnections pre- sents the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broad- caster, karaoke nut and former writer and editor at Rolling Stone. Ben was a featured character in the acclaimed film, Almost Famous.

Ive got a feeling about this William Hung guy. Hes going to last about as long as an iPod download. Hung, of course, is the diminutive UC Berkeley student who auditioned for American Idol with a goofy version of Ricky Martins She Bangs, got featured as one of the really bad singers (and he dances like a marionette, to boot), and is going through his 15 minutes, and then some, of fame. Hung, a native of Hong Kong who moved to the U.S. in 1993, has been on big TV shows Tonight, Dateline, Entertainment Tonight, and Ellen ; hes being booked for personal appearances, hes got fan Web sites, and hes constantly mobbed on campus, where hes a civil engineering student. Best, or perhaps most frightening of all, he got a $25,000 recording contract and a CD, True Idol , coming out.

All this because, as clunky a performer as he is, he offered an innocently sweet and gracious response after the judges dissed him. I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all.

And that was it. Because he didnt scream back at Simon Cowell, burst into tears and stomp off and because hes so bad its almost funny hes a cult celebrity, getting the kind of media attention thousands of talented musicians can only dream of. Hes even been featured in Rolling Stone , whose reporter called him a bona fide dweeb and revealed that Hung, whos 21, is a non-smoking, non-drinking, non-swearing, teeth-flossing virgin.

OK, so Im not famous for the right reasons, he said. Im infamous, a joke. It doesnt make me feel good, because Im a genuine person, but I dont let it get to me, because I am who I am.

So, are people loving him, or laughing at him? Well know soon enough, when his record company rolls out 100,000 William Hung CDs. And yes, there are tracks available on iTunes.

THIS JUST IN: The CD is out, it's dreadful, and, knowing how these things work, I now predict it'll be a hit. First day sales in his own nabe, the San Francisco Bay Area, were slow, but it'll sell. Why? The media still view William as a curio of some sort and are letting him do his thing on Jay Leno's and other shows. The CD, for a gag gift, is priced right: $9.99, including a bonus DVD. You get to laugh at William at your own expense, but it's a reasonable expense. Still, the fun stops after less than a song, when you realize you've aurally stepped into Karaoke Hell. Between killings of various pop hits, William talks. "I may not be the best singer," he says at one point. No, William--you're not a singer. I just got an e-mail from Billy Jam at Hip Hop Slams, with a subject line: "William Hung has left the building...let's get back to the music." Amen.

Dim Sum of All Things

Hanging out at the Jack London Writers Conference in Foster City, Calif., the other day (I was on a panel about freelance writing), I met Teresa LeYung Ryan, author of Love Made of Heart , and was reminded of all the Asian-American writers out with intriguing books. My most recent read was The Dim Sum of All Things , by Kim Wong Keltner. I loved this first novel, which is a contemporary take on what its like to be a young Asian-American woman dealing with everyday life (as a receptionist at a San Francisco magazine called Vegan Warrior ) while shes tugged and pulled every which way by friends, family, co-workers, strangers, cultural conflicts and obligations, and the occasional hilarious daydream/brainstorm. As I wrote on Amazon.com, Keltners writing sings. She goes from punky and spunky to rhapsodic, romantic, and even touching.

I wrote that because Keltner has triggered a storm of online reactions to her main character, Lindsey OwYang, a 20-something Chinese-American who derides what she calls Hoarders of All Things Asian that is, white guys who crave Asian-American women, even as she yearns for the affections of a white co-worker. Just look at the headlines people wrote for their own reviews: A Sellout Work from a Self-Hating Person. Reinforces stereotypes. An in-depth look at shallowness. Also: Pitch perfect, hilarious and moving. This book rocks. The sum of all things dim and funny. Other readers called it dull and angry, classified it as chick lit, and said her storys been told a zillion times before, and that Amy Tan should sue for plagiarism.

None of those latter remarks rings true with me, but I suggest you check Dim Sum out for yourself. I think youll identify with Lindsey, her family, her takes on San Francisco and China, her dating disasters and her personal discoveries. (She also does a nice job describing lion dancing, one of my own favorite spectacles since childhood.) And youll agree that she will someday rank with such first-rate storytellers as Gish Jen, Gail Tsukiyama, and, yes, Tan herself. If you dont hey, you can always write to Amazon.com!

Thanks, Justin; Thanks, Janet

Mark my words. At the end of the year, at least one magazine, doing the Looking Back at 2004 thang, will run the headline: It Was the Breast of Times; It Was the Worst of Times. Another one will go with a simple caption under Justin & Janets Superbowl Kodak moment: The Breast of 2004. . . . Speaking of looking back, I happened onto the cast listing, on the movie database, www.imdb.com, for Americathon , a 1979 turkey in which I had a teeny, tiny part as a tourist from China visiting the White House in the futuristic year of 1998. Im in the cast listing as what else? Chinese. But get a load of my fellow cast members: The star of the film, (the late) John Ritter! Fred Willard (who almost stole the 2000 movie, Best in Show )! Jay Leno! Elvis Costello! George Carlin! Meat Loaf! Howard Hesseman (Dr. Johnny Fever on the sitcom, WKRP )! Cybill Shepherd (who most recently portrayed Martha Stewart in her TV biopic)! And, as a fellow Chinese: John Lone, who went on to The Last Emperor, M. Butterfly , and Rush Hour 2 (with Jackie Chan). Despite these mostly illustrious names, however, this movie was a stone bomb. If you insist on watching it, have a bong nearby. . .

Spellbound

Well, I guess weve all got more address labels than we need. Ive gotten sheets of them from just about every charitable organization, each one hoping that, in guilt-ridden return, Ill send $10, $20 or, if I must, "( ) Other." Id be more inclined to help out if theyd bothered to get my name right. I really can't use a label announcing mail from Ngtorres Ben & Dianne Fo, even if the label is decorated with a cute hummingbird. Or should that be Ngbird Hummi? It reminds me of the collage I made, back at Rolling Stone magazine, of all the misspellings I got in my mail: Ben-Fang Tores . . . Ben Fongue-Torres . . . "Ben Fontauous" . . . Fen Tong-Torres" . . . "Ben Van Tour . . . Dan Fong-Tores, and, quite understandably, Mr. Forytories. Well, at least they were polite ...

Visit Mr. Forytories' home page sometime, why don'tcha, at www.benfongtorres.com.