HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD — When Pfc. Paul Ieti, 21, was in Afghanistan, he and a friend made a video of him singing "Stay" by Rihanna. And like a million young dreamers before, they posted it on YouTube.
The video went viral, and has since been viewed by more than a million people worldwide.
He never expected the video would have such an impact. He also never expected that the producers from "America's Got Talent" would invite him to sing on the NBC television variety show.
Ieti, assigned to Company A, 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigad, is still in the competition, with a very real opportunity to win a million dollars.
His fame and potential for fortune doesn't seem to have changed Ieti. That is apparent to most who meet Ieti, just how humble and grounded the young singer has remained.
He said he's never understood why people change after making it to celebrity status.
"I'm still going to be Paul Ieti, the normal-but-hyperactive guy I've been," he said. "I know my talent is God-given, and I just want to share it with the world."
Ieti also credits to his mother and father for giving him perspective about his newfound fame.
"Both of my parents have told me that no matter how far I get or how famous I get, I need to remember where I'm from and to stay humble," he said.
One of Ieti's friends, Spc. Jason Timms, with Company B, 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, said Ieti is taking his parents' advice.
"I like to think that it's a matter of humility and things that he's learned throughout the years," he said. "Basically, it comes down to his family, his faith and his friends."
Ieti said that as much as he loves to sing, he loves it even more when his talent helps to comfort others.
Juliet Schwarz, another friend, recalled a recent deployment to Afghanistan when she was having another "Groundhog Day."
Soldiers use that term to describe when every day seems just like the day before. Schwarz said she was taking a break when Ieti talked to her and asked if he could sing for her. Reluctantly, she said, she agreed. She said listening to Ieti removed her from the war zone.
"I just didn't feel like I was there any more," she said through tears. "For that short time while he sang, I felt elevated to a different level. It made me happy."
Ieti said if he wins the million dollars, he may to go a little crazy with the money. He wants to buy his mother and father a new car and a new home in Florida. After that, he said, he plans on saving what is left.
Ieti will sing on the program tonight in a "Judgment Week" episode.