Life is full of surprises. Chris Hicks, owner of Chris’s Curbside Grill in Hinesville, watched a YouTube video over a year ago of a soldier in Afghanistan singing a cover of Rihanna’s “Stay.”
“I was blown away. It was incredible,” he said.
Little did Hicks know that one year later, that soldier, Hunter Army Airfield Pfc. Paul Ieti, would perform at his restaurant.
During the elapsed 12 months, Ieti embarked on a whirlwind journey. Scouts from NBC’s reality competition show, “America’s Got Talent,” also saw the YouTube video, and the show’s producers flew the soldier to Los Angeles to audition for the 2014 season. He made it past the audition and was invited to perform regularly on the show at Radio City Music Hall. He made it to the semifinals.
“It was just amazing — something I will never forget. I mean, to make it to the semifinals on the biggest reality show in America is just so special,” Ieti said.
When Hicks learned that Ieti would be leaving the Army in August after his appearance on “American’s Got Talent,” the restaurateur mentioned to one of his customers, Christine Spencer, that he would like to have Ieti perform at Chris’s Curbside Grill before he left Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah.
Spencer said she knew how to get in touch with Ieti and, a few phone calls later, the NBC star had accepted Hicks’ invitation to perform on Sept 18.
Last Thursday, Ieti performed many of the songs he performed on “America’s Got Talent” to a packed house of fans and Hicks’ customers. The crowd cheered uproariously for Ieti’s rendition of “God Bless the USA.”
“This really is a thank-you performance for all the support I got from the Coastal Empire during my appearance on ‘America’s Got Talent,’” Ieti said.
To cap off the evening’s festivities, Hicks and his staff took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. They bid farewell to Ieti, who now is enjoying a visit to his home in American Samoa.
Because of his support for all branches of the military and the time he spent as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, Hicks donates 10 percent of his proceeds to the Soldiers’ Angels volunteer organization.