Former ‘American Idol’ contestant Willie Spence dies in car crash at 23

A man in a tie-dye shirt raising a hand into the air and singing into a microphone
Willie Spence performs at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall in 2021.
(Robb Cohen / Invision / Associated Press)

Former “American Idol” finalist Willie Spence died Tuesday from injuries sustained in a car crash in Tennessee, according to Georgia news outlet Douglas Now. He was 23.

The fan-favorite “Idol” contestant was the runner-up in the competition program‘s 19th season last year. Chayce Beckham was the winner.

Fellow “American Idol” alum Katharine McPhee, who mentored and performed with Spence during Season 19, mourned the singer Tuesday on Instagram.


Many television shows have changed something — the nature of comedy, the fate of a network, certain cultural attitudes, the industry pay scale, public tolerance of graphic imagery, the sophistication of storytelling or just far too many women’s hairstyles.

April 6, 2016

“I received very tragic news tonight,” McPhee wrote. “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.”

The “Smash” star also shared a video that Spence posted on Instagram “right before his accident.” In the clip, Spence passionately belts Selah’s “You Are My Hiding Place” in his car.

“We are devastated about the passing of our beloved American Idol family member, Willie Spence,” read a statement on the “American Idol” Instagram page. “He was a true talent who lit up every room he entered and will be deeply missed. We send our condolences to his loved ones.”

“I love you Willie,” “American Idol” panelist Katy Perry commented on the post. “Purest soul. Sing with the angels my darling.”

During his “American Idol” audition, the vocalist from Douglas, Ga., blew the celebrity judges away with a powerful rendition of Rihanna‘s “Diamonds.” After giving him a standing ovation, Lionel Richie hailed Spence as an “undeniable star,” while Luke Bryan deemed him “a special human being.”

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the Season 15 finale and want to be surprised by the outcome, be warned that the winner and details of the show are revealed below.

April 7, 2016

“You, my friend, are so gifted,” Richie said. “On the first note, I had chills. ... That was an enjoyable session to watch.”


In April 2021, Spence released his debut EP, “The Voice,” followed by singles “Never Be Alone” and “The Living Years.”

“I just want my voice to reach the world and share my gift,” he told the judges at his “Idol” audition.

“Hopefully winning a Grammy one day, that’s where I see myself in five years. ... It’s going to take hard work, but I think I can do it.”