Among singer Willie Spence’s biggest fans were the very contestants he competed against on “American Idol” in 2021, many of whom are struggling to come to grips with news of the singer’s tragic death. Heartfelt tributes are rolling in from castmates who became dear friends with the gospel singer during his journey on the show, where he took second place and jumpstarted his promising music career.
Season 19 ‘American Idol’ Castmates Mourn Willie Spence’s Death
During season 19 of “American Idol,” which began with auditions in the fall of 2020 and aired on ABC in the spring of 2021, Willie Spence of Douglas, Georgia, rose to fame as a humble, soft-spoken but powerful gospel singer who blew the judges away week after week.
The singer took second place in the competition, just behind country singer Chayce Beckham, who professed his love for Spence just before the final results of the season, saying they’d be friends forever. He never imagined, of course, that his friend would be gone so soon.
According to a preliminary police report obtained by Heavy, Spence died in a two-vehicle accident at 4 pm on October 11, 2022, when his 2019 Jeep left the road and crashed into a tractor-trailer in Tennessee.
On October 12, trying to process the news of Spence’s fatal car accident, Beckham posted an emotional tribute to his friend and castmate on Instagram.
“It’s hard to find the words to say here, other than I loved Willie very much,” Beckham wrote, sharing a video of Spence performing. “He was a good sweet soul, and a warm beam of light in a cold and dark world that needed him so much. When willie sang I swear it would shake a whole room. I think Willie had a voice that God gave him specifically to spread his message, when Willie sang gospel it could make you cry.”
Beckham continued, “Willie also had a laugh that could make you melt, an honest humor you couldn’t help but love, and the biggest heart you could imagine all wrapped up into one human. His larger than life energy was infectious and I loved being around him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and fans, who I know he loved so much, and who he held close to his heart. I can’t wait to sing with you in Paradise, where I know I’ll see you again. Rest In Peace brother.”
Singer Kya Moneé, who performed a duet of the song “Stay” with Spence during Hollywood Week that drew all three judges to their feet, was crushed by the news, sharing on Instagram that Spence had recently encouraged her to keep moving forward in her music career.
Along with posting multiple broken-heart emojis, she wrote, “i’m not strong enough for this. we just just talked about me taking a lim out on my dream and just going for it … man i can’t i love u @williespenceofficial”
Alyssa Wray, with whom Spence was scheduled to perform in New York City on October 18, shared an emotional tribute in which she said she was sick to her stomach over his death.
Wray also posted a home video of Spence singing the gospel classic “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” writing in the comments that they were at “Idol” castmate Anilee List’s home, with Deshawn Goncalves, another castmate, playing the piano.
“I remember we all were at Anilee’s house jamming and singing our hearts out,” Wray wrote. “If Willie started singing, you listened. You leaned in. That’s a gift. Thank you Jesus for that gift.”
Season 19’s Grace Kinstler, who became close with Spence on the show and performed a duet with him on the 2022 “Idol” reunion show, posted two photos of them together, including a Polaroid of the duo sitting on a couch, and wrote a heartfelt note to him.
She wrote, “Willie, I’m sorry I don’t have more eloquent words to share for you right now. It doesn’t feel real. Thank you for your heart, and thank you for reminding all of us that there’s nothing more refreshing than being authentic and keeping it 100% at all times. I will miss your laugh, the face you’d make when you didn’t like something or felt uncomfortable, and most of all, the smiles you’d put on the faces and hearts of everyone around you the moment you’d enter a room. Rest easy, love you lots, friend.”
Casey Bishop, who reached the Top 4 of season 19, also shared a photo of her with Spence and wrote a heartwrenching post to accompany it.
“This is so heartbreaking and unreal,” she wrote. “I don’t understand why this happened, it’s just hard not to think to my self ‘why’ … Willie was so kind, gentle, hilarious, generous, incredibly talented and loved by so many. His energy was so beautiful & contagious and If you met him, you loved him. I love you so much Willie, so many people do.”
Bishop continued, “My brain doesn’t really know how to sit with the fact that you’re not here on this earth anymore. I know you are in heaven now but it’s just hard to think that I won’t see you or talk to you in this lifetime ever again. You’re so special, I’ve never met anyone like you and I will forever be grateful that I got to create a beautiful bond with you. Words can’t describe the feeling this brings me. We will miss you so much … You are one of a kind Willie … Rest In Peace my friend”
Extended ‘Idol’ Family of Contestants & Crew Are Also Grieving Willie Spence’s Death
The grief over Spence’s death extends far beyond his castmates from season 19. They say Spence had such a sweet personality and musical gift that he was known and loved by contestants from throughout the show’s 20-year history.
One of those people was season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee Foster, who mentored and performed a duet of “The Prayer” with Spence during his season on “Idol.” The heartbroken singer and actress was one of the first people to speak out about the accident on social media. Late on October 11, she posted in her Instagram Stories that she’d just received word of Spence’s death.
“I received very tragic news tonight,” she wrote. “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.”
When the “American Idol” Instagram account confirmed Spence’s death with a tribute post, many past contestants commented about their grief and their interactions with Spence.
Season 16 and 17’s Alyssa Raghu wrote, “incredible voice, incredible person. Sending love forever.”
Season 16 winner Maddie Poppe wrote, “Absolutely heartbreaking. RIP Willie Spence”
“American Idol” casting producer and warmup host Josh Randall posted an emotional tribute, too, referencing Spence’s Instagram profile.
He wrote, “Willie’s profile said ‘star in the making,’ but you shined brighter than you will ever know. I looked up at the sky last night and thought of you shining down. You were humble, compassionate, and kind, and I’ll never understand why, but I guess heaven needed an angel. I’ve never heard a voice like yours, but beyond the voice was a humble kid who never knew he was already a star. Whenever I look up at the stars I’m gonna think of you. Gone too soon, but never forgotten”
Kris Pooley, who is musical director for both the show and Katy Perry, shared a video of Spence performing on the “Idol” stage and wrote, “Thank you Willie for sharing your gift with all of us. God rest your soul.”