New details have emerged of the Oct. 11 tragic car accident that took the life of Willie Spence, the beloved American Idol runner-up from Season 19. The 23-year-old talented singer was driving his 2019 Jeep Cherokee on Interstate 24 East in Marion County at around 4 p.m. on Tuesday when he exited the highway and crashed into a tractor-trailer, which was stopped on the shoulder, according to a report from the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Willie was wearing a seat belt at the time of the fatal incident. The driver of the tractor-trailer was uninjured, per the report.
The singer’s local newspaper, Douglas Now, was first to report the news of his death on Facebook. “He was an extraordinary talent and a ray of light to millions across the world,” the outlet added. “He will be missed.”
The rising star, who spoke with HollywoodLife in 2021 about his career ambitions, was paid tribute to by the reality show on Instagram following his death. The post included a montage of Willie’s best moments from the season, including his second-place finish. “We are devastated about the passing of our beloved American Idol family member, Willie Spence. 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,” the show wrote in the caption.
American Idol judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie also shared heartbreaking messages for the former contestant. Katy gushed, “I love you Willie. … Sing with the angels my darling.” Luke said Willie lit up every room he walked into, adding,“He could change the mood instantly when he started singing. He will truly be missed.” Lionel, meanwhile, wrote, “Your light will always shine in this world. We were so blessed to get a chance to see you shine. My thoughts and prayers are with Willie’s family. Rest well my friend.”
Katharine McPhee, who performed with Willie during his time on Idol, was one of the first stars to react, taking to her Instagram Story shortly after the announcement, writing, “Life is so unfair and nothing is ever promised.” She added, “God rest your soul Willie. It was a pleasure to sing with you and to know you.”
Willie had posted a clip of himself singing in a parked car on Instagram just hours before his death. The beautiful ballad was heartbreaking, as fans began to flood the comment section once the news of his passing spread. “You truly were and will always be such a gift to us,” one wrote, while another shared, “One of the most kind and genuine people I’ve ever endured. One of the most talented artists I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.”
During his phenomenal run on American Idol, Willie won over fans’ hearts with his big voice and even bigger smile. He also had an incredible story of overcoming some health challenges before his audition. Willie had revealed he was hospitalized with fluid in his lungs, a complication from weighing over 600 pounds. This encouraged him to lose 200 pounds before he stepped on stage in front of the judges.
“I just want my voice to reach the world and just share my gift — hopefully winning a Grammy one day, that’s where I see myself in five years,” Willie told the judges at the audition. “It’s gonna take hard work, but I feel like I can do it.”
Willie would make it all the way to the Final 3, where he would end up taking second place to Chace Beckham. “I am going to push harder and still be doing music,” Willie told HollywoodLife and other media outlets after the finale. “This is definitely not the end. This is a new beginning for my career and I am excited!”