In June, 82-year-old John Hetlinger first took the stage on “America’s Got Talent.”
Wearing a toucan-decorated shirt he got on vacation and a pair of khakis, he looked basically like anyone’s grandpa. Without much further introduction, he burst into a cover of Drowning Pool’s “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor”:
And with that, America was introduced to the “Heavy Metal Grandpa.”
Hetlinger was eliminated in the Judge Cuts, but few contestants have had his influence.
His first performance has been viewed over 8 million times on YouTube, and he’s yet to be eliminated from the competition. He’s even gained fans in the heavy metal community, as he performed with Drowning Pool at Chicago Open Air.
Hetlinger never expected the success, but he’s more than happy with the moniker.
“It seems to fit. I am everybody’s grandpa now. I’d like to just be their superstar but I’m their superstar grandpa,” Hetlinger told INSIDER in an interview.
And before his metal career kicked off, Hetlinger lived quite a life. When asking Hetlinger what his life was like prior to “America’s Got Talent,” he first said that he “pretty much hung out around the house,” referring to his retirment.
There’s much more to that story.
Hetlinger, who currently resides in Broomfield, Colorado, was born in South Dakota. His time in the Navy in the 1950s brought him to Okinawa, Japan. He spent most of his life working in aerospace. He worked his way up from engineer to manager. He oversaw work on the Hubbell Telescope. In addition, he is also an ordained minister. His work has brought him to Maryland, Kansas, California, New Mexico, Florida, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. He was hired by Ball Aerospace in Boulder and finally settled in California.
He then retired and travelled with his wife. It was on a trip to Acapulco that he got the toucan shirt that he wore onstage and on several cruises that he realised his love of karaoke.
“They had people they picked out of karaoke during the week and have them perform. And I ended up doing that on all the cruises that we were on,” Hetlinger said.
Hetlinger recalls that his heavy metal career started about three years ago. While visiting family in New Mexico, they went on a trip to a karaoke bar where John was invited on stage to perform a song. It was Rob Zombie’s “Dragula.”
A few years later, he would go on to audition for “America’s Got Talent.” Hetlinger’s second performance on the show was a wild cover of “Dragula.”
When describing some of the significant events in his life, Hettlinger is both modest and earnest. It probably explains why he didn’t experience any stage fright his first time performing in front of a national audience.
“I think I’m probably too old for that. I probably don’t know any better now,” Hetlinger said.
In reality, this is just one small peg in a very exciting life, yet one that Hetlinger would put at the “top of the list,” as he told Simon Cowell.
Hetlinger seems to be someone who’s followed a lot of cool opportunities throughout his life. He’s not looking to become a professional heavy metal singer, but he loves where this has taken him.
“I’m not going into entertainment as a career, that’s for sure. But, if I have the opportunity to sing Bodies with Drowning Pool again, I’ll do that,” Hetlinger concluded.
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