‘American Idol’ Runner-Up Willie Spence Dies at 23

Willie Spence

ABC "American Idol" runner-up Willie Spence has died at the age of 23.

Willie Spence captivated the hearts of America when he auditioned for “American Idol” with a rendition of Rihanna’s song “Diamonds.” The 23-year-old singer and “Idol” runner-up was killed in a car crash in Tennessee on Tuesday, October 11, 2022, police told Heavy.

According to a Tennessee Highway Patrol report obtained by Heavy, the crash happened in Marion County about 4 p.m. Spence was driving a 2019 Jeep Cherokee on Interstate 24 east near mile marker 147 in Jasper, the Chattanooga office of the highway patrol said in its preliminary report on the crash. Spence’s Cherokee left the roadway and crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer that was stopped in the shoulder of the road, the report states. Spence, who was wearing his seat belt and alone in the Jeep, was killed. The driver of the semi-truck, a 68-year-old man from Omaha, Nebraska, was not injured, the highway patrol said.

TMZ reported that Spence was driving home to Atlanta. The news outlet reported that a family member said Spence had a flat tire during his trip from Tennessee to Georgia but had it fixed and continued driving.

The news was first posted by the local news outlet Douglas Now on Facebook. The news was later seemingly confirmed by Spence’s friend, K. Michelle, on Instagram with two posts in tribute to Spence.

Family members have also posted the news on Facebook, including Spence’s cousin, Charlayne Flint-Jackson.

“To my lil’ cousin who was here a short while but made the biggest impact on people with his Beautiful smile, heart and your anointed voice,” she wrote. “Yes ‘M ‘ Willie Spence we all know you were here because you impact us all. An angel on Earth returned home take you rest beloved you will be deeply missed and always remembered , your music will live forever.”

She asked for prayers for her family.

Tributes Are Pouring in for Spence on Social Media From Fans, Friends & the ‘American Idol’ Family

Katharine Foster, who performed with Spence during an episode of “American Idol,” shared the news on her Instagram Stories.

“I received very tragic news tonight,” she wrote on her Stories alongside a video from their first meeting. “Sweet @williespenceofficial passed away in a car accident. Only 23 years old. Life is so unfair and nothing is ever promised. God rest your soul Willie. It was a pleasure to sing with you and to know you.”

She also commented on one of Spence’s last posts.

“Sweet Willie… you deserved the stars and the moon. I’m so sorry for the world to be robbed of more precious time with you. You were an absolute Angel. I know you are up there now with the rest of the angels. God rest your soul. For now I’m 💔,” she wrote.

Spence’s last Instagram post features him singing in his car alongside the caption “Lord you are my hiding place.”

Hunter Metts, who was on “American Idol” with Spence, commented, “At a lost for words – My heart is broken. Thankful for the time and experiences we shared. Rest in peace Willie.”

Willie Spence Finished in 2nd Place on Season 19 of ‘American Idol’ & Captured the Hearts of Viewers

Spence finished season 19 of “American Idol” in second place, behind only winner Chayce Beckham.

The week of the “American Idol” finale, Spence visited his hometown of Douglas, Georgia, where Mayor Tony Paulk “declared Tuesday, May 18 as Willie Spence Day and gave him a key to the city,” according to WSB TV.

Governor Brian Kemp declared the entire week “Willie Spence Week” throughout the state.

Spence was hoping to win a Grammy Award, he told the judges when he auditioned for “American Idol.”

“I just want my voice to reach the world and share my gift, hopefully winning a Grammy one day,” he said during his audition. “That’s where I see myself in 5 years. … It’s going to take hard work, but I think I can do it.”

The singer was gearing up to perform in London for the first time on November 12, he shared on Instagram.

Spence released an EP in 2021. The album included six songs, titled “Forever More,” “Chance On Me,” “Reckless,” “So Gone,” “Notice Me” and “One Minute With God.”

The album did not include the song titled “Pressure,” which Spence previously teased.