A Virginia sheriff's deputy -- better known as the "Dancing Deputy" in his viral videos -- performed on "America's Got Talent" on Tuesday.
Stafford County Sheriff's Deputy Deuntay Diggs watched his performance at the sheriff's headquarters with supportive colleagues. While he didn't advance to the next round, Diggs said he has no regrets.
"I'm not bummed out," Diggs said. "Every setback is a setup for the future."
Diggs has made headlines before. Last October, his performance of Beyonce's "Formation" at a North Stafford High School pep rally was shared thousands of times on Instagram and Twitter.
After that video went viral, Diggs received a call from an "America's Got Talent" representative about trying out for the show. The producers liked what they saw, because they invited Diggs to Los Angeles in January 2017.
Before he could accept the offer, Diggs had to clear it with the Stafford County Sheriff's Office. Luckily, his supervisor was a fan of the idea.
"He said it would be great for community policing and engaging with the community," Diggs said.
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information
Diggs isn’t a formally trained dancer, though, so leading up to his L.A. appearance, he had to practice. Given the show's broadcast procedures, that training had to be done in secret.
"I would go to Gold's Gym. I spoke with the manager, and she gave me the opportunity to go into the studio during the downtime," Diggs said. "I would just practice different dance moves and work out. Just making sure I was in shape, so I wouldn't pull any muscles or break anything on stage."
Despite Diggs' lack of traditional dance training, artistic pursuits were always a pivotal part of his upbringing. Singing and dancing gave Diggs a way to express himself during his turbulent childhood.
"My mother was addicted to drugs, she was an alcoholic, and I've never known my biological father," Diggs said. "There were times when we were homeless. I suffered through starvation, physical abuse, just so many things.... As a child, I didn't have a voice. I couldn't talk about this abuse, so I would communicate through music."
When Diggs chose to attend college at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), he saw it as a way into the middle class through a military commission. During his first year at VMI, aka the Ratline, Diggs realized he couldn't lie about a fundamental part of his identity any longer.
"When I came to the realization that I was gay, I was also being taught about integrity and honesty and character and all these types of things," he said. "I didn't want to lie about it."
When he first came out, Diggs' fellow cadets ostracized him. That position as an outsider only forced him to double down on his training.
"I realized all I did from that moment on was going to impact those who came after me," he said. "So, regardless of how people treated me, I always tried to be there to help people. I helped the people who couldn't complete the PT test. I was at the top of my class when it came to field training. I felt like I had to be the most knowledgeable."
The commitment Diggs showed gradually won over his peers, but due to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy at the time, he couldn’t pursue a commission. Instead, he chose law enforcement.
Although his situation has drastically improved since those early years, dancing still serves a pragmatic purpose, Diggs said. By performing on stage in his police uniform and conducting outreach to his community, he can help curb negative stereotypes about law enforcement, he said.
"I represent a lot of different communities," Diggs said. "The LGBTQ community, the black community, the law enforcement community."
A few weeks ago, while overworked and exhausted, an incident with a young girl reminded Diggs why that position of influence matters.
"She was crawling through my patrol car. We're talking and taking pictures, and she gets out of my patrol car, goes over to her mom, grabs her hand and goes, 'Mommy, not all police are bad,'" Diggs said. "That's why I do what I'm doing. I'm trying to show people there's a heart behind the badge."