The singing soldier from "America's Got Talent" didn't make the show's final round, but he's not about to stop singing.
The soldier part, though, will end sooner rather than later.
"I am currently in the process of getting out of the military," Pfc. Paul Ieti said via email through an Army public affairs officer Sept. 5, answering Army Times' questions for the first time since being eliminated from the NBC competition late last month. "It's been a great three years and an experience of a lifetime meeting new friends, seeing new places and learning so much about the importance of life and discipline."
"I love the military," he added, "but with the God given talent I have, I know there's more out there for me to use it with and to share with the world."
Ieti, a petroleum supply specialist based out of Georgia's Hunter Army Airfield with A Company, 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, got knocked off the show Aug. 27, the night after singing his version of the Backstreet Boys hit "I Want It That Way." The show's four judges offered less-than-glowing reviews, and Ieti didn't earn enough votes from viewers to move on.
The 21-year-old's strongest memory of the talent-show experience was a much different moment with the judges: The reactions of model Heidi Klum, former Spice Girl Mel B and radio legend Howard Stern to his audition, a cover of Rihanna's "Stay" that already had turned Ieti into a minor YouTube celebrity.
"The moment that really stood out the most was when three of the judges came up to the stage and gave me hugs while the crowd went crazy," he said. "It was all so amazing. ... The whole experience all felt like a dream and I didn't want to wake up."
The fourth judge, comedian Howie Mandel, elicited cheers from the crowd before the audition by asking Ieti what he did for a living.
"I'm a soldier in the U.S. Army," Ieti replied, going on to explain that he'd just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.
Support from soldiers
Ieti's audition earned him a trip to "Judgment Week" with other top performers. His rendition of the Rascal Flatts hit "Bless the Broken Road" punched his ticket to the quarterfinals, where he covered One Direction's "You and I" in a live performance at New York's Radio City Music Hall.
That got him into the semifinals. All told, the competition required 34 days of regular leave, according to a spokesman with Ieti's unit.
"My leaders and supervisors were very supportive and stood behind me the whole time," Ieti said. "They made it possible for me to leave for the show and for that I want to sincerely thank them."
Ieti, who returned to work Sept. 2, also thanked fellow soldiers for their support, but as viewers of the show's tear-jerking backstage productions know, his closest ties are to his family in American Samoa.
"My mom and dad are quite popular themselves back home," he said. "They've been getting interviewed about me being on the show. I don't know when I'm going to see them again, but I'm praying it'll be soon because I do miss them more than anything and would give anything just to see them."
A number of Ieti's non-NBC performances can be seen on his YouTube page, which has amassed more than 1.3 million views. The show's winner will be announced Sept. 17.