‘American Idol’ Season 19 Runner-Up Willie Spence Dead at 23

American Idol Season 19 runner-up Willie Spence has died at the age of 23 after sustaining injuries from a car accident. 

A family member of Willie’s confirmed to TMZ that Willie was driving home to Atlanta from Tennessee on Tuesday when the accident occurred. Willie had a flat tire at some point; however, he reportedly continued driving after getting the flat fixed. According to the local media site Douglas Now, the 23-year-old’s car “left the road and struck the back of a parked tractor-trailer,” while driving in Tennessee.

Fans of ‘American Idol’ may remember Willie’s impressive audition last year, during which he belted out “Diamonds” by Rihanna–- a performance that earned him a standing ovation from judge Lionel Richie, who called Willie “an undeniable star.” 

“You are a special, special human being,” judge Luke Bryan added. 

After judge Katy Perry told Willie he had a voice that stopped people in their tracks, she went on to ask the singer what he wanted his music career to look like in five years. 

“I just want my voice to reach the world and just share my gift,” Willie replied. “Hopefully winning a Grammy, that’s where I see myself … It’s gonna take hard work, but I feel like I can do it.” 

On Wednesday, the ‘American Idol’ Facebook page reposted Willie’s moving audition, along with the caption, “Shine bright, Willie.” The show also shared the video and a message on Instagram. 


“We are devastated about the passing of our beloved ‘American Idol’ family member, Willie Spence,” the caption read. “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.” 

Katy took to the comments of the post to share some words about Willie, calling him the “purest soul.” 

“Sing with the angels my darling,” she added. 

‘American Idol’ host Ryan Seacrest also took to social media following the news of Willie’s passing, telling fans “everybody on and off set loved him.”  

“Willie really did light up every room he walked into,” Luke Bryan wrote. “He could change the mood when he started singing. He will truly be missed.” 

Willie is the fifth ‘American Idol’ contestant to pass away. Nikki McKibbin of Season 1 died in November 2020; Michael Johns of Season 7 died from a blood clot in 2014; Season 2’s Rickey Smith was killed in a car accident in 2016; and Leah LaBelle of Season 3 died in a car accident in 2018. 

(Photos: ABC; Instagram) 


12 Responses

  1. It was already said, numerous times since it happened, that he was texting while driving, something he is well known to do quite frequently, and not paying attention to the road. That’s why his car went out of his lane and continued there long enough to hit the back of the trailer. The flat had nothing at all to do with it, it occurred well before the incident. I will not call it an accident since it’s something he caused by being reckless. I feel horrible for the friends and family he left behind, however, he very well could have killed someone else doing this. People should learn from things like this, it happens so frequently, and yet, no one ever seems to.

    1. Some are trying to blame the driver of the truck who was parked exactly where he was supposed to be parked, on the shoulder, well away from traffic. They’re saying that if the truck driver had not stopped where he was that Willie would’ve just gone off the road and eventually noticed that he wasn’t on the road anymore. That’s how common it was for him to drive recklessly and veer off the road.

      Apparently the truck driver was supposed to know that he was driving recklessly and prepare in advance for that. Smh. When will people learn that their phones are just not that important?

  2. This is so sad. His voice still gives me chills. My heart goes out to his family who he obviously loved very much. 23 years old is too young. I know he is singing with the angels.

    1. Yes this is sad!!

      But it sounds like sabotage to me. I mean, any mechanic worth his salt knows that you replace a flat with a new tire then you fix the flat once the damaged tire is off the car.

      However, 23 is old enough to know better so maybe it was ignorance on the mechanic’s part or maybe it was thoughtlessness on the part of Willie Spence.

      But something seems fishy to me.

      1. The flat happened long before the incident. There is absolutely nothing fishy at all about it. He caused the incident, his own death, by driving recklessly while texting. Don’t put blame on the mechanic who did nothing wrong. Blame the idiot behind the wheel who couldn’t put his phone down while driving.

        1. The article says he “continued to drive on the flat tire after it was fixed” which leads a person to believe that the accident not incident occurred due to the previously flat tire.

          And accidents happen, I’m not gonna blame the poor guy that died as a result…that’s just shitty. Yes his actions while driving leave alot to be desired but he’s not the first and I’m pretty damn sure he won’t be the last to act irresponsibly while driving.

          And when a person’s phone dings incessantly it’s hard to just ignore it, perhaps he was on his way to a family emergency and was afraid to not answer. You don’t know the nature of the texts so how dare you blame him!!

          1. It is NEVER an accident to drive while texting, or distracted. People need to stop using that as some kind of weird excuse for everything. But you made my point for me. He was not the first, he will not be the last. We need to stop calling these accidents, when it is intentional actions that caused the incidents. We need to stop glorifying people who drive recklessly just because others do it too, or because they were good people before that horrible choice. We need to start using things like this as proof that driving recklessly can and WILL harm lives.

            Yes, it is possible to ignore your phone, turn the damn thing OFF while driving, or simply be an adult and pull the hell over! It does NOT matter the nature of the texts, ever. Pulling over is always an option, turning off the phone is always an option. You take the lives of others in your hands when you’re behind the wheel of ANY vehicle. Maybe if more people took that responsibility seriously, we’d see less of these. How dare I? How dare anyone make excuses for piss poor behavior. No text is worth another person’s life, EVER. If someone’s phone is that damn important, they shouldn’t be driving at all.

            We lost almost an entire family, including children, just recently because some dipshit was texting while driving. The idiot who caused the crash was hurt, but got out of the hospital within a few days. Yes, we do blame that person, as we damn well should-it’s too bad there are people like you who don’t. Driving is not a right, it’s a privilege people need to take seriously.

          2. I have reread this article numerous times and nothing is said about texting and driving. The only thing mentioned was the flat tire. And the article says that he had a flat “at some point but continued to drive on it after it was fixed” no mention of how recent or distant the flat occurred or was fixed.

            And just because you “claim” to have read about his history of texting and driving (probably from TMZ or some other lame ass gossip site) we’re supposed to take it as the gods honest gospel truth…I don’t think so.

            You probably just want to point the blame at him because of his race!! So stop…just stop!!!

            It was an ACCIDENT and because of it someone young and innocent was taken well before his time.

          3. Don’t play the race card where it needn’t apply, there are plenty of places where it does, and you negate the importance of all the other issues where people use race as a means to hurt and insult others. Since you don’t know my race, that’s an asinine choice on your part.

            Yes, someone, likely someone who was an all around great person otherwise, has lost their life due to poor choices. It’s horrible, and I can’t even express how tremendous the grief his family will be feeling because of it.

            That doesn’t change anything that I have said. You assumed, wrongly, it was the flat, based on something you read and interpreted incorrectly. You also defended texting while driving simply because someone might not know the nature of the text (which is not only ethically wrong, it’s illegal). That is all on you, and I can’t change, nor do I want to, your opinion. But I will lay blame where it belongs, in the hands of the driver who chose to drive recklessly (which includes ANY kind of distracted driving).

            I hope eventually people learn from things like this, so we can stop seeing so many of these incidents. No one should have to bury a loved one because of reckless driving, ever, it is 100% preventable.

          4. I read THIS article, no misinterpretation present. It literally says nothing about texting/driving or any other poor driving choice other than his still driving on a previously flat tire!!!

            He may or not have been doing anything wrong when the ACCIDENT occurred. But im not gonna form an opinion about his driving history based on yours or anyone else’s claims of what they say they’ve read. His HISTORY is of no importance, what is important is that this poor young man’s life was snuffed out far too soon.

            Whether he acted poorly or not is not for YOU or anyone else to judge. Calling him an idiot is wrong regardless.

          5. It says nothing at all about the flat causing the issue, yet you jumped right to that one and even literally said it was fishy, and even blamed the mechanic. You made assumptions based on THAT misinterpretation. I specifically said that my opinion was based off things being said elsewhere, not in this particular cover of the story.

            I will always call distracted drivers idiots. I will call people that defend texting while driving, the way you did, idiots too.

            It is beyond tragic that his life is now over, there really are no words to properly convey that message. It still doesn’t change anything I’ve said. Even the best people in the world can make the wrong choices-which is what nearly always leads to things like this (so, yes, history plays a role in how people will discuss it, you don’t have to agree or like that, though).

            Calling me a racist was pretty wrong on your part, but I don’t see you taking back any of your assumptions, so, I’ll stick by what his family and friends have said. Alcohol, drugs and speeding played no role (that anyone, including authorities can tell right now), but distracted driving did. I think it’s very telling that his family wants people to learn from his mistakes, and it’s very big of them to do so while still mourning and experiencing such grief. I will take their cue on that.

          6. All THIS article talks about is the previously fixed flat that he continued to drive on and absolutely nothing about texting/driving so yeah I’m gonna assume the previous flat is what caused the accident just like how you jumped the assumption that his history of distracted driving was the cause. So yeah, I’m gonna blame the mechanic, I sure as hell ain’t gonna jump to the conclusion that something happened that wasn’t even mentioned in the article (like you did) and put the blame on the person that is no longer alive.

            And perhaps you misread the race post I said you “probably blame him because of his race” which means maybe you do and then again maybe you don’t.

            And yes, while his actions (previous or recent) may be idiotic, HE wasn’t an idiot. He was a person that may or may not have made a bad choice.

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