John Hetlinger, 82, Destroys AGT With Ghastly Metal Screams

ByQuyen Anne

Dec 28, 2023

Metal singers come in all shapes and sizes but the meanest of the lot is 82-year-old John Hetlinger. The retiree stunned the America’s Got Talent audience by dropping the most badass metal screams on them in his cover of Drowning Pool’s “Bodies”. Hetlinger, who hails from Colorado, began by singing the acapella intro but nobody was prepared for what would happen when he opened the taps on a blood-curdling scream when the main riff kicked in.

Several audience members were left open mouthed in awe as Hetlinger just kept delivering the metal biffo in spades, while a number of fans immediately jumped to their feet and started clapping to the beat. Hetlinger did not exactly look the part of a metal madman, with his pants pulled up past his belly button and only the thinnest lick of white hair left on his head, but he definitely proved you’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll. You can watch his audition below.

Hetlinger’s audition unsurprisingly went viral, with 19 million viewers tuning in to see him tear the roof off America’s Got Talent. The octogenarian was remarkably spry and showed off a real flair for commanding the stage in addition to his monstrous metal vocal skills. He also clearly absolutely loved what he was doing and his infectious enthusiasm quickly spread to the crowd, creating an electric energy in the room.

The judges were at different points amused, shocked and amazed, while Simon Cowell went red in the face and covered his mouth, clearly loving the spectacle of Hetlinger’s bombastic performance. News of Hetlinger’s epic cover of “Bodies” later reached Drowning Pool themselves, and the band invited him to sing the song live with them. Hetlinger again brought his enthusiasm for playing live to the show, making for a memorable performance, as you can see below.

Despite his humongous pipes, Hetlinger came late to the rock ‘n’ roll game, as he explained to the judges, saying he “retired about 15 years ago – that’s about the time I started doing karaoke.” Prior to becoming a viral sensation, Hetlinger had quite an interesting career, working at various points as a Lutheran minister, a programme manager on the Hubble Telescope and even as a Navy Pilot.

Music fans flocked to the comment section on the video to express amazement at Hetlinger’s performance, adding comments such as “This man is an absolute inspiration honestly. This is how you live life,” and “Half of the crowd was dancing and half was in pure shock. I think he looked like he was having the time of his life really.”

Hetlinger passed away earlier this year on May 14, with many fans again hailing his performance on America’s Got Talent as legendary upon hearing the news. The singer is survived by four children from his two marriages, as well as two adopted children. His family stated in his obituary that he died of heart failure, and also cheekily noted that “surprisingly, it was not caused by karaoke-related screaming.” If you would like to see more from John Hetlinger, you can subscribe to his YouTube channel.

This week may have been Hetlinger’s television debut, but it was far from his first foray into heavy metal covers. In fact, a video of him performing the same track at a karaoke bar is recirculating on Reddit. (He told judge Simon Cowell that he started doing karaoke after he retired.)

He is also an Elvis impersonator, for some reason.

Hetlinger did make it through to the next round in AGT, but if that doesn’t work out, he’s definitely got other prospects. According to TMZ, Drowning Pool itself wants Hetlinger to join them onstage for Chicago’s Open Air Festival in July — and are offering to foot all his travel expenses.

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