Willie Spence, ‘American Idol’ Season 19 runner-up, dead at 23

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CNN
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Willie Spence, a singer who as a teen went viral with his rendition of Rihanna’s hit “Diamonds” and was the runner up on Season 19 on “American Idol, has died the show confirmed in a social media posting on Wednesday.

He was 23 years old.

“We are devastated about the passing of our beloved American Idol family member, Willie Spence,” read the caption on a video of Spence’s “Idol” audition, posted on the show’s verified Instagram account. “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 singer was killed in a car accident in Tennessee on Tuesday, according to CNN affiliate WSB, citing the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Spence was driving an SUV when he went off the road and crashed into a car that was stopped on the shoulder, according to the accident report.

TMZ also reported that a family member confirmed to them that Spence died after a crash.

CNN has reached out to representatives for Spence.

The West Palm Beach, Florida native relocated with his family to Georgia as a child. It was while singing in his local high school that Spence was first discovered.

A video of him singing “Diamonds” in what appeared to be a classroom in 2017 went viral and has since racked up more than 15 million views on YouTube.

The performance landed him an appearance on Steve Harvey’s daytime talk show. Spence also chose to perform the song for his audition for “American Idol” in 2021.

He blew judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan away with Richie declaring Spence “unbelievable” and Bryan saying he did not want the singer’s performance to end.

“When you think about your future, and you think about the voice you have cause you know it stops people in their tracks, this is the magic you have, in five years what do you want it to look like?” Perry asked Spence. “In your wildest dreams, if nothing was standing in your way?”

“I just want my voice to reach the world and just share my gift,” Spence replied. “Hopefully winning a Grammy one day. That’s where I see myself in five years.”

“American Idol” fifth season runner up Katharine McPhee Foster took to her Instagram stories to post a tribute to Spence, who she met on “Idol” during his season.

“I received very tragic news tonight. Sweet @williespenceofficial passed away in a car accident,” she wrote on her Instastory along with a video of her and Spence from the show. “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.”

She also shared his final Instagram posting, a video of himself in a car singing the Christian tune “You Are My Hiding Place.”

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