HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. – When 21-year-old Army Pfc. Paul Ieti 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 popular NBC television variety show. Ieti wowed the crowd and judges with a performance that has made him a very popular guy right now.
Ieti -- assigned to Company A, 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade -- is still in the competition, with a very real opportunity to win a million dollars.
The combination of fame and potential for fortune has a way of making normal people go a little crazy. The streets of celebrity are paved with young stars who couldn’t handle the pitfalls that money and success can bring. But what is apparent to most who meet Ieti is just how humble and grounded the young singer has remained.
The singing soldier remains true to his family, his faith, and his true friends, which he said helps to keep him grounded through this exciting period in his life.
Ieti 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 gives credit to his mother and father for giving him the right perspective about his newfound fame and that he wants to share his success with them.
“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 member of Ieti’s inner circle of friends is Army Spc. Jason Timms, a Cypress, Florida, native with Company B, 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, said Ieti is taking his parents’ advice to stay grounded.
“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 one of his friends and fellow soldiers.
Juliet Schwarz, another friend of Ieti who calls Dothan, Alabama, her home, recalled a time during a recent deployment to Afghanistan when she was having another “Groundhog Day.”
Soldiers use that term to describe the routine when every day seems just like the day before, referencing the film in which the lead character relives the same day numerous times. Schwarz said she was taking a break from her job when Ieti came and talked to her, and then asked her if he could sing for her. Reluctantly, she said, she agreed. She was surprised to find that 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.”
The reward of being able to share his gift with someone, Ieti said, is all the payment he needs. But if he wins the million dollars, he added, he plans 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.