- Willie Spence came in second place behind Chayce Beckham on Season 19 of ‘American Idol’
- The talented singer became a fan favorite on ‘American Idol’ with his inspiring story of losing over 200 pounds before he auditioned for the show
- Willie died in a tragic car accident in Tennessee on Oct. 1, 2022
Willie Spence, the runner-up on Season 19 of American Idol, died after succumbing to injuries from a Oct. 11 car accident in Tennessee. The rising talent, who spoke with HollywoodLife in 2021 about his career ambitions, was only 23 at the time of the tragedy. Sadly, one of his last Instagram posts was an announcement for an upcoming concert in London.
The singer’s local newspaper, Douglas Now, was first to report the news of his death on Facebook. “He was an extraordinary talent and a ray of light to millions across the world,” the outlet added. “He will be missed.” The crash occurred at around 4 p.m. Tuesday in Marion County in East Tennessee, according to a preliminary report from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, per NBC News. Willie’s 2019 Jeep Cherokee collided with the back of a tractor trailer that was stopped on the shoulder of a highway, per the outlet.
Katharine McPhee, who performed with Willie during his time on Idol, took to her Instagram Story shortly after the announcement, writing, “Life is so unfair and nothing is ever promised.” She added, “God rest your soul Willie. It was a pleasure to sing with you and to know you.”
Keep reading to find out more about the exceptional singer, below.
1. Willie Was A Fan Favorite On ‘American Idol’
Willie was a frontrunner with both the judges — Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan — and the ‘American Idol’ fans after he blew everyone away at his Season 19 audition with his incredible take on Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” With his pitch-perfect voice, a sparkling personality and the backstory of overcoming health challenges due to his weight, Willie soon became the singer everyone wanted to see succeed.
“I just want my voice to reach the world and just share my gift — hopefully winning a Grammy one day, that’s where I see myself in five years,” Willie told the judges at the audition. “It’s gonna take hard work, but I feel like I can do it.”
Willie would make it all the way to the Final 3, where he would end of taking second place to Chace Beckham. “I am going to push harder and still be doing music,” Willie told HollywoodLife and other media outlets after the finale. “This is definitely not the end. This is a new beginning for my career and I am excited!”
2. He Started A Successful Career Post ‘American Idol’
Willie took his newfound fame/success and ran with it! Although he had worked on his own music before ‘American Idol’ — releasing the single “So Gone” and a music video for it — Willie really started to find his groove after the show. In September, he recording an amazing cover of “The Living Years” with Briana Moir and in October, he announced he would be performing in London.
3. Wille Underwent A Major Weight Loss Before ‘American Idol’ Audition
Before his audition on American Idol, Willie opened up about a health scare that pushed him to lose weight to save his own life. “I turned myself into the hospital to get a checkup because I had pain in my chest,” Willie explained. “The doctors told me they found fluid in my lungs. I weighed 600 pounds. When they told me that, I knew I had to focus more on my health. I went from 600 pounds to 400 pounds.”
Willie’s story impressed host, Ryan Seacrest, who asked him how he was able to get himself into better shape. “My eating was a big part of it,” Willie admitted. “I have a trainer now. I’m doing better. I have no fluid.” Altogether, Willie lost over 180 pounds by the time he auditioned. “I’m just being healthy and focusing,” he said. “If I don’t have good health, I won’t be able to sing.”
4. He Was Extremely Close With His Family
Willie credited his family with helping him get through the hard times. “I do this for my family,” he said before his audition. “They’ve always supported me. They’ve been there since the very beginning.” During showstopper week, Willie added, “This year has been a tough year. Being in the hospital really scared me. I thought I wasn’t going to survive. My family got me through it, as well, and I’m very thankful.
Willie’s family even made a virtual appearance during the episode. “We all love you with all of our hearts,” his mom, Sharon, gushed. “We pray that you continue and let God let you climb this ladder of success with American Idol.”
5. Where Is Willie From?
Willie was born in Florida and raised in Douglas, Georgia. Willie had a strong connection to his hometown. While speaking to the judges after his showstopper round performance, Willie said he knew that the people back home in Douglas are “very happy” and “proud” of him.