Willie Spence, Season 19 ‘American Idol’ Runner-Up, Dead at 23
American Idol finalist Willie Spence has died. The 23-year-old was runner-up to Chayce Beckham during Season 19 of the ABC reality show in 2021. His R&B stylings and affable personality made him a favorite among fans and other contestants on the show.
A Facebook Post from Douglas, Ga., news outlet Douglas Now broke the news on Tuesday night (Oct. 11). Spence reportedly died from injuries sustained in a car accident that day. Just hours earlier, he shared what would be his final Instagram post, a version of a worship song called "You Are My Hiding Place."
DouglasNow has learned that Douglas native and American Idol Season 19 runner-up Willie Spence, 23, has passed away due to injuries sustained in an automobile accident in Tennessee. We have no further details at this time. We extend our condolences to Willie’s family, friends, and fans. He was an extraordinary talent and a ray of light to millions across the world. He will be missed.
Further confirmation of Spence's death comes from former American Idol finalist Katherine McPhee, who performed "The Prayer" with Spence during Season 19 of American Idol. "I received very tragic news tonight," she begins on Instagram Story. "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."
WSB-TV in Atlanta shares that Spence's car accident happened at about 4PM on I-24 near Chattanooga, Tenn. He was driving a Jeep Cherokee that veered off the road into a car that had stopped on the shoulder. The driver of the car Spence crashed into — 68-year-old Raymond Kresl — was not injured.
Spence auditioned for American Idol with a cover of "Diamonds" by Rihanna, and immediately, the judges fell in love with his style and understated personality. During subsequent rounds, he'd sing songs by John Legend, Adele, Elton John and Joe Cocker. During the Season 19 finale, her performed "Georgia on My Mind" by Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Ray Charles.
"I can smell magnolias," Luke Bryan raved after Spence finished. "You have delivered every single time, and I can see you doing that the rest of your life."
In 2022, Spence released an independent song called "The Living Years" to digital streaming outlets.
Further details on the crash that killed Spence are forthcoming. He kept his personal life private, so it's not known if he was in a relationship at the time of his death.
*This story was updated to add details of the car accident.