John Hetlinger, 82, walked out onto the America’s Got Talent stage Tuesday night wearing khaki pants and a tucked-in white button-down with a colorful toucan patch on its pocket. He revealed that he helped repair the Hubble and was a Navy pilot before he retired 15 years ago. And then he shocked everyone by launching into his raucous version of a hard rock band Drowning Pool’s “Bodies.”
“We’ve been watching America’s Got Talent since the beginning, because it’s a really fun show,” Hetlinger tells EW. “My wife would often say, ‘That’s no good. You should be on there, John.’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, I should.'”
So he auditioned. “Bodies” wasn’t his first choice though: He first tried out with David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Call Me By My Name,” a country song, to disappointing results. “But when I got to be really old and doing heavy metal, that struck a chord with the producers,” Hetlinger says of when he decided to try out “Bodies.” “They thought that might work. It did!”
Although Hetlinger normally listens to country or pop music, he first discovered the head-banging “Bodies” when a DJ at a karaoke bar suggested it. Since then, it’s been a go-to for him whenever he does karaoke — which is often. He’s been to karaoke with all six of his children — five daughters, one son — and 12 grandchildren, and has even won multiple competitions on cruise ship vacations with his wife. “I did Elvis Presley and I did Ricky Martin,” he remembers. “Not very well.”
Now, he can count more than fellow cruise attendees as fans. “Simon Cowell sort of adopted me,” Hetlinger says. “[Heidi Klum] gave me nose, but I like Heidi anyway,” he laughs. “I told her, I think she may be the only one with good taste.” The video has also racked up close to 3 million views on YouTube as of this story’s publication.
Despite what Klum thinks, Drowning Pool themselves definitely approve. “I was blown away,” guitarist C.J. Pierce tells EW before noting that their original singer, Dave Williams, died of a heart condition in 2002, a year after “Bodies” first debuted. “[Dave] would be so excited to see this guy do it, because he was big on karaoke as well,” Pierce says. “He would be proud, that’s for sure.”
Drowning Pool — whose sixth album, Hellelujah, came out earlier this year — and Hetlinger haven’t officially met yet, but they’re looking to change that. The band reached out to Hetlinger on Facebook and suggested performing together. “I said I would be exceedingly excited to do that,” Hetlinger says. The feeling’s mutual: “We definitely were serious when we said we would love to have him come out onstage and perform with us,” Pierce says. “It would be great.“