When Stars Sing . . . Badly

Is Donald Trump the next William Hung? The real estate mogul begins his singing career Sunday -- and in the mixed-up, crazy world of celebrity karaoke, a really bad performance might just guarantee The Donald a lucrative recording career.

This year's Primetime Emmys are getting "American Idol"-ized, with an unlikely batch of celebrities competing in a sing-off of classic TV theme songs. Ratings have apparently sunk so low, producers have asked Trump to belt out a version of the "Green Acres" theme with "Will & Grace's" Megan Mullally to spice things up. Eddie Albert must be turning over in his grave.

In another celebrity duet, Gary Dourdan of "CSI" and R&B star Macy Gray will sing "The Jeffersons" theme, while "Veronica Mars" star Kristen Bell chimes in with "Fame."

And, of course, no kitsch competition is complete without America's favorite bad singer, William Shatner. The former captain of the USS Enterprise and opera star Frederica Von Stade are providing vocals to the instrumental theme from "Star Trek," to boldly go where no man in his right mind has gone before.

Is this a positive turn? It's one thing when amateurs screw up on stage before their friends on karaoke night. But if you're a well-paid star, why sing if you can't sing? And should the public be encouraging celebrities to act even sillier?

Already, with nominations for their work on "The Apprentice" and "Boston Legal," Trump and Shatner stand to walk away with a Primetime Emmy, one of the few Hollywood awards that actually carry some weight.

But when these two sing in what's now called "Emmy Idol" -- and viewers vote online -- one of them stands to be doubly honored. Or dishonored, depending on how you look at it.

Emmy Phasers Set on 'Ironic'

Bad singing has carried Shatner through that awkward stage of his career, when he had to adjust to his principal character zipping through the galaxy with a toupee.

Of course, when the erstwhile Captain Kirk released his infamous first album -- "A Transformed Man" -- he never expected to be the William Hung of 1968.

As he said in the original liner notes, "Music and I are old, familiar friends." They were just never on a first-name basis.

Shatner's over-the-top, spoken-word versions of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" were so bad, you just had to play them to your friends to marvel at the insanity. As one critic famously put it, Shatner "sounds in dire need of padded restraints."

With that, Captain Kirk suddenly became Captain Kitsch, and he rode high atop the wave of stars making vanity records with some of the most jaw-dropping recordings ever. Telly Savalas had his own version of "Whiter Shade of Pale." Goldie Hawn recorded a sultry version of "Hard Days Night," and even Andy Griffith took a crack at "House of the Rising Sun."

Sebastian Cabot -- better known as the mannerly British butler Mr. French on "Family Affair" -- recorded "Like A Rolling Stone." And Jack Webb -- Sgt. Joe Friday on "Dragnet" -- had to plead guilty to assaulting the soul classic "Try a Little Tenderness."

For even more variety, try game show host Wink Martindale's "Peace in the Valley" -- that'll have you longing for "Tic Tac Dough" -- or Mae West's version of "Light My Fire."

And, of course, who can forget that great Vulcan folksong, "If I Had a Hammer," as performed by Leonard Nimoy? It was bested only by his foot-stomping "Proud Mary."

OK, these numbers have fantastic joke value. But shouldn't we leave the unintentional humor to the amateurs? And don't these efforts detract from movie stars who actually have musical talent?

Certainly, many movie stars can sing. Why reward those who can't? It's no surprise that William Hung's albums -- "Inspiration" and "Hung for the Holidays" -- both cracked the Top 40 of the Billboard 200, making "American Idol's" most famous reject also one of its most successful recording artists.

The question is: How many William Hungs does the world need? And if we're going to reward someone for being a no-talent, isn't there someone more deserving than Trump? I sing badly, and I have no shame. Hint, hint.

"Emmy Idol" also raises another troubling problem: It only encourages the likes of William Shatner to sing more. Last year, Ben Folds, Aimee Mann, Joe Jackson and Brad Paisley lent their talent to the release of "Has Been," Shatner's most ambitious (and aptly titled) album yet.

Is There No Limit to David Hasselhoff's Talent?

While the results might not have been too pretty, we must nevertheless appreciate Shatner's impact on the recording careers of so many non-singing celebrities. Would Don Johnson, Eddie Murphy, Keanu Reeves, Alyssa Milano, Maureen McCormick, Billy Bob Thornton, Dennis Quaid, Corey Feldman, Kevin Bacon, Russell Crowe and Steven Seagal have had the courage to release albums over the years, despite questionable musical talent?

Thanks to Shatner, we can relax to Bruce Willis -- a man who can barely talk -- as he mumbles his way through "Under the Boardwalk" and "Secret Agent Man." Feeling sad? Minnie Driver's weepy version of Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" is there to comfort you.

As the android Data on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Brent Spiner can trace his musical lineage even more directly to Captain Kirk. On his 1991 album, "Ol' Yellow Eyes Is Back," Spiner interprets pop standards like "Embraceable You" and Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."

You never know who will make it on the Billboard charts. David Hasselhoff -- who is now legendary in the United States for being a legend in Germany and a has-been at home -- parlayed his "Baywatch" fame into a multiplatinum recording career.

Historians will note that on New Year's Eve in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, Germans at their reunification celebration were singing Hasselhoff's No. 1 hit, "Looking for Freedom."

Hasselhoff even headlined a show from atop the wall to mark the occasion -- and was so hot, he was voted "Most Popular and Best Selling Artist of the Year," beating out Madonna and Michael Jackson.

Hasselhoff was such a phenomenal success, even KITT, the super-intelligent talking sports car from "Knight Rider," began looking into a record deal.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Hasselhoff and KITT teamed up for a duet on Sunday's "Emmy Idol." They've both got great pipes.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.

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