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Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

5 People Who Became Famous By Singing Badly

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Every once in a great while, a singer comes along who is so untalented, yet so willing to sing in public, that people buy records just to marvel at his or her awfulness. These "musicians" are actually selling laughs, and are even more effective if the audience isn't quite sure whether the artist is in on the joke.

Florence Foster Jenkins tells the story of one such artist. The movie stars Meryl Streep as a woman with a deep and abiding passion for music who couldn't carry a tune if it came with handles. Since it's in theaters today, let's start with her as we look at other infamously bad musicians.

These five acts have a few things in common: no stage fright, thick skin, and lasting fame. It takes guts and charm to pull off a career as a bad singer, but the rewards can be great.

1. FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

Florence Foster Jenkins was born in 1868 and made recordings in the first half of the 20th century. She wanted to be an opera singer from an early age, but was discouraged by her parents and later by her husband. Yet she still pined for the stage, and after filing for a divorce and securing an inheritance from her father, she set out to build her career. She performed a handful of concerts in New York, Washington, and Newport, where the audience was filled with loyal friends who encouraged her to pursue her dreams, as well as curious music lovers who felt compelled to witness the carnage.

Jenkins could neither sing on key nor keep a rhythm, yet she loved performing, and her recitals included a number of elaborate costumes. Later called "The Diva of Din," she shrugged off laughter from the audience and less-than-stellar reviews, attributing them to jealousy. There is no evidence that Jenkins ever gave less than her best efforts. Many who knew the charming musician refused to discourage her as she led her deluded but happy life as a famous opera singer.

Jenkins avoided Carnegie Hall for most of her life, but finally booked it in October 1944 when she was 76 years old. Tickets sold out weeks before the show, and she was enshrined as the worst singer to ever play the venue. She died a month later, still oblivious to the mocking reality behind her fame.

Listen to Jenkins perform Mozart's "Queen of the Night" (if you can handle it).

2. MRS. MILLER

Elva Ruby Connes Miller was known to TV audiences simply as Mrs. Miller. She grabbed the attention of Baby Boomers and their parents with her appearances on The Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Laugh-In, and other variety shows of the 1960s, but she began her career by singing gospel and children's songs, and then giving away the records. She was discovered by disc jockey Gary Owens, who put Miller's music on his radio show in 1960 to draw laughs. He'd later go on to become the announcer on Laugh-In.

Miller's first album. Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits, was released in 1966 and sold 250,000 copies in three weeks. Even Miller was astonished by the reaction; she was also upset that her fame was a result of the poor quality of her singing, saying:

"I don't sing off-key and I don't sing off-rhythm. They got me to do so by waiting until I was tired and then making the record. Or they would cut the record before I could become familiar with the song. At first I didn't understand what was going on. But later I did, and I resented it. I don't like to be used."

However, money talks and Miller eventually got into the spirit of her act. She managed to stay in character while performing, as the unaware diva in the tradition of Florence Foster Jenkins. Miller was also a genuinely charming, ladylike rural character from Missouri who inspired respect as she sang for laughs. Her 1968 album Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing featured the grandmotherly woman offering a curious-looking plate of brownies on the cover and singing psychedelic '60s tunes. This endeared her to the hippie generation, but Miller always insisted she was not aware of the drug references.

Feeling betrayed, she left her recording label and tried to change her image to that of a conventional singer. That attempt failed. She retired in the 1970s, and died in 1997 at the age of 90, but you can still hear Mrs. Miller performing live with Jimmy Durante.

3. THE PORTSMOUTH SINFONIA

The Portsmouth Sinfonia was an orchestra formed in 1970 at England's Portsmouth School of Art. The original goal was to make the experience of musical performance open to those students who didn't have a background—or talent—in music. Those who played an instrument could join, but only if they switched to an instrument they weren't familiar with. In fact, members didn't even have to be students, and they were forbidden to play less than the best they could.

The band was an odd experiment that took off: They played concerts, then released an album, then played the Royal Albert Hall. The orchestra was led by several well-known guest conductors, the most illustrious regular member being Brian Eno, who went on to legendary fame as a member of Roxy Music and producer for David Bowie, U2, and more. Unfortunately or fortunately, the Sinfonia stopped performing in 1979. You can hear their recording "Classical Muddly" on YouTube.

4. WILLIAM HUNG

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

William Hung found fame on the TV show American Idol in 2004. An engineering student at UC Berkeley at the time, Hung didn't make the cut for the competition, but his 2003 audition was featured in an episode dedicated to those who lacked the talent for the contest. His performance and his good-natured response to failure made him a sensation.

Hung was immediately invited to appear on various TV talk shows to discuss his experience—and sing. This led to a record deal from Koch Entertainment and three albums, plus appearances in sitcoms, movies, and advertisements. Hung also performed live at various sporting events. Despite a lack of singing talent, crowds loved him for his sincerity and humility. In April, Hung was invited to sing "She Bangs"—the song that made him infamous—on the American Idol finale.

5. WING

Wing Han Tsang, who records using only the name Wing, is a professional singer from New Zealand. Born in Hong Kong, Wing began singing in nursing homes soon after she immigrated to New Zealand. Wing's reviews compare her to immortals like Mrs. Miller and Jenkins, but her style is a bit more unconventional.

Wing became all the more famous when she was parodied on South Park; at one point you could even arrange for her to sing you a song over the phone for a nominal fee.Unfortunately, Wing retired from singing professionally in 2015. You can hear many of her performances online, such as her rendition of The Carpenters' "Close to You".

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10 Biting Facts About Snapping Turtles
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Here in the Americas, lake monster legends are a dime a dozen. More than a few of them were probably inspired by these ancient-looking creatures. In honor of World Turtle Day, here are 10 things you might not have known about snapping turtles.

1. THE COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE IS NEW YORK'S OFFICIAL STATE REPTILE.

Elementary school students voted to appoint Chelydra serpentina in a 2006 statewide election. Weighing as much as 75 pounds in the wild (and 86 in captivity), this hefty omnivore’s natural range stretches from Saskatchewan to Florida.

2. ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES CAN BE LARGE. (VERY LARGE.)

An alligator snapping turtle
NorbertNagel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Utterly dwarfing their more abundant cousin, alligator snappers (genus: Macrochelys) are the western hemisphere’s biggest freshwater turtles. The largest one on record, a longtime occupant of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, weighed 249 pounds.  

A monstrous 403-pounder was reported in Kansas during the Great Depression, though this claim was never confirmed.  

3. COMMON SNAPPERS HAVE LONGER NECKS AND SPIKIER TAILS.

Alligator snappers also display proportionately bigger heads and noses plus a trio of tall ridges atop their shells. Geographically, alligator snapping turtles are somewhat restricted compared to their common relatives, and are limited mainly to the southeast and Great Plains.

4. BOTH VARIETIES AVOID CONTACT WITH PEOPLE.

If given the choice between fight and flight, snapping turtles almost always distance themselves from humans. The animals spend the bulk of their lives underwater, steering clear of nearby Homo sapiens. However, problems can arise on dry land, where the reptiles are especially vulnerable. Females haul themselves ashore during nesting season (late spring to early summer). In these delicate months, people tend to prod and handle them, making bites inevitable.

5. YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO GET BITTEN BY ONE. 

Snapping turtle jaw strength—while nothing to sneeze at—is somewhat overrated. Common snapping turtles can clamp down with up to 656.81 newtons (N) of force, though typical bites register an average of 209 N. Their alligator-like cousins usually exert 158 N. You, on the other hand, can apply 1300 N between your second molars.

Still, power isn’t everything, and neither type of snapper could latch onto something with the crushing force of a crocodile’s mighty jaws. Yet their sharp beaks are well-designed for major-league shearing. An alligator snapping turtle’s beak is capable of slicing fingers clean off and (as the above video proves) obliterating pineapples.

Not impressed yet? Consider the following. It’s often said that an adult Macrochelys can bite a wooden broom handle in half. Intrigued by this claim, biologist Peter Pritchard decided to play MythBuster. In 1989, he prodded a 165-pound individual with a brand new broomstick. Chomp number one went deep, but didn’t quite break through the wood. The second bite, though, finished the job.

6. SCIENTISTS RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT THERE ARE THREE SPECIES OF ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES.

A 2014 study trisected the Macrochelys genus. For over a century, naturalists thought that there was just a single species, Macrochelys temminckii. Closer analysis proved otherwise, as strong physical and genetic differences exist between various populations. The newly-christened M. suwanniensis and M. apalachicolae are named after their respective homes—namely, the Suwannee and Apalachicola rivers. Further west, good old M. temminckii swims through the Mobile and the Mississippi.

7. THANKS TO A 19TH CENTURY POLITICAL CARTOON, COMMON SNAPPING TURTLES ARE ALSO KNOWN AS "OGRABMES." 

Snapping turtle cartoon
Urban~commonswiki via Wiki Commons // CC BY PD-US

Drawn by Alexander Anderson, this piece skewers Thomas Jefferson’s signing of the unpopular Embargo Act. At the president’s command, we see a snapping turtle bite some poor merchant’s hind end. Agitated, the victim calls his attacker “ograbme”—“embargo” spelled backwards.

8. ALLIGATOR SNAPPERS ATTRACT FISH WITH AN ORAL LURE …

You can’t beat live bait. Anchored to the Macrochelys tongue is a pinkish, worm-like appendage that fish find irresistible. Preferring to let food come to them, alligator snappers open their mouths and lie in wait at the bottoms of rivers and lakes. Cue the lure. When this protrusion wriggles, hungry fish swim right into the gaping maw and themselves become meals.

9.  … AND THEY FREQUENTLY EAT OTHER TURTLES. 


Complex01, WikimediaCommons

Alligator snappers are anything but picky. Between fishy meals, aquatic plants also factor into their diet, as do frogs, snakes, snails, crayfish, and even relatively large mammals like raccoons and armadillos. Other shelled reptiles are fair game, too: In one Louisiana study, 79.82% of surveyed alligator snappers had turtle remains in their stomachs.

10. YOU SHOULD NEVER PICK A SNAPPER UP BY THE TAIL.

Ideally, you should leave the handling of these guys to trained professionals. But what if you see a big one crossing a busy road and feel like helping it out? Before doing anything else, take a few moments to identify the turtle. If it’s an alligator snapper, you’ll want to grasp the lip of the upper shell (or “carapace”) in two places: right behind the head and right above the tail.

Common snappers demand a bit more finesse (we wouldn’t want one to reach back and nip you with that long, serpentine neck). Slide both hands under the hind end of the shell, letting your turtle’s tail dangle between them. Afterwards, clamp down on the carapace with both thumbs.

Please note that lifting any turtle by the tail can permanently dislocate its vertebrae. Additionally, remember to move the reptile in the same direction that it’s already facing. Otherwise, your rescue will probably turn right back around and try to cross the road again later. 

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Tina Fey
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Tina Fey has transformed modern comedy more than just about anyone else. From the main stage of Second City to the writer’s room of SNL to extremely fetch comedy blockbusters, Elizabeth Stamatina Fey has built a national stage with a dry, eye-popping sarcasm and political satire where no one is safe. She has a slew of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, PGA, and WGA awards to prove it—plus a recent Tony nomination (her first). But, more importantly, she’s the closest thing we have to a national comic laureate.

Here are 10 facts about a fantastically blorft American icon.

1. SHE DID A BOOK REPORT ON COMEDY WHEN SHE WAS 11.

Fey got a very early start in comedy, watching a lot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, and Norman Lear shows as a kid. Her father and mother sneaked her in to see Young Frankenstein and would let her stay up late to watch The Honeymooners. So it’s no surprise that she chose comedy as the subject of a middle school project. The only book she could get her hands on was Joe Franklin’s Encyclopedia of Comedians, but at least she made a friend. "I remember me and one other girl in my 8th grade class got to do an independent study because we finished the regular material early, and she chose to do hers on communism, and I chose to do mine on comedy," Fey told The A.V. Club. "We kept bumping into each other at the card catalog."

2. THE SCAR ON HER FACE CAME FROM A BIZARRE ATTACK THAT OCCURRED WHEN SHE WAS A CHILD.

Fey’s facial scar had been recognizable but unexplained for years until a profile in Vanity Fair revealed that the mark on her left cheek came from being slashed by a strange man when she was five years old. “She just thought somebody marked her with a pen,” her husband Jeff Richmond said. Fey wrote in Bossypants that it happened in an alleyway behind her Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, home when she was in kindergarten.

3. HER FIRST TV APPEARANCE WAS IN A BANK COMMERCIAL.

Saturday Night Live hired Fey as a writer in 1997. In 1995 she had the slightly more glamorous job of pitching Mutual Savings Bank with a radical floral applique vest and a handful of puns on the word “Hi.” In a bit of life imitating art, just as Liz Lemon’s 1-900-OKFACE commercial was unearthed and mocked on 30 Rock, the internet discovered Fey’s stint awkwardly cheering on high interest rates a few years ago and had a lot to say about her '90s hair.

4. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO BE NAMED HEAD WRITER OF SNL.

Four years after that commercial and two after she joined Saturday Night Live’s writing staff, Fey earned a promotion to head writer. Up until that point, the head writers were named Michael, Herb, Bob, Jim, Steve. You get the picture. She acted as head writer for six seasons until moving on to write and executive produce 30 Rock. Since her departure, two more women (Paula Pell and Sara Schneider) have been head writers for the iconic show.

5. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARK TWAIN PRIZE WINNER.

Established in 1998, the Kennedy Center’s hilarious honor has mostly been awarded to funny people in the twilight of their careers. Richard Pryor was the first recipient, and comedians who made their marks decades prior like Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, and George Carlin followed. Fey earned the award in 2010 when she was 40 years old, and the age of her successors (Carol Burnett, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, David Letterman ...) signals that she may hold the title of youngest recipient for some time.

6. SHE WROTE SATIRE FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER.

Fey was an outstanding student who was involved in choir, drama, and tennis, and co-edited the school’s newspaper, The Acorn. She also wrote a satirical column addressing “school policy and teachers” under the pun-tastic pseudonym “The Colonel.” Fey also recalled getting in trouble because she tried to make a pun on the phrase “annals of history.” Cheeky.

7. SHE MADE HER RAP DEBUT WITH CHILDISH GAMBINO ON "REAL ESTATE."

Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) first gained notice as a member of Derrick Comedy in college, and Fey hired him at the age of 23 to write for 30 Rock. Before jumping from that show to Community, Glover put out his first mixtape under his stage name. After releasing his debut album, Camp, in 2011, Gambino dropped a sixth mixtape called Royalty that featured Fey rapping on a song called “Real Estate.” “My president is black, and my Prius is blue!"

8. SHE VOICED PRINCESSES IN A BELOVED PINBALL GAME.

Between the bank commercial and Saturday Night Live, Fey has an intriguing credit on her resume: the arcade pinball machine “Medieval Madness.” Most of the game’s Arthurian dialogue was written by Second City members Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger on 30 Rock) and Kevin Dorff, who pulled in fellow Second City castmate Fey to voice for an “Opera Singer” princess, Cockney-speaking princesses, and a character with a southern drawl. (You can hear some of the outtakes here.)

9. SHE USED MEAN GIRLS TO PUSH BACK AGAINST STEREOTYPES OF WOMEN IN MATH.

Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan in 'Mean Girls' (2004)
Paramount Home Entertainment

There’s a ton of interesting trivia about Mean Girls, Fey’s first foray into feature film screenwriting. She bid on the rights to Rosalind Wiseman’s book that inspired the movie without realizing it didn’t have a plot. She initially wrote a large part for herself but kept whittling it down to focus on the teenagers, and her first draft was “for sure R-rated.” Fey also chose to play a math teacher to fight prejudice. “It was an attempt on my part to counteract the stereotype that girls can’t do math. Even though I did not understand a word I was saying.” Fey used a friend’s calculus teacher boyfriend’s lesson plans in the script.

10. SHE SET UP A SCHOLARSHIP IN HER FATHER’S NAME TO HELP VETERANS.

Fey’s father Donald was a Korean War veteran who also studied journalism at Temple University. When he died in 2015, Fey and her brother Peter founded a memorial scholarship in his name that seeks to aid veterans who want to study journalism at Temple.

"He was really inspiring," Fey said. "A lot of kids grow up with dreams of doing those things and their parents are fearful and want them to get a law degree and have things to fall back on, but he and our mom always encouraged us to pursue whatever truly interested us." Fey also supports Autism Speaks, Mercy Corps, Love Our Children USA, and other charities.

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