‘American Idol’ Runner-Up Willie Spence Dies at 23

Willie Spence on American Idol. (Credit: ABC)

American Idol alum Willie Spence has died, the show confirmed Wednesday in a statement on its verified Instagram account. He was 23.

“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 statement read.

The post included a video of Spence’s Idol audition, where he performed a beautiful rendition of Rihanna’s single Diamonds, prompting the show’s judges to tell him the performance was “unbelievable” and he had a true gift.

Spence was killed in a car accident near Chattanooga, Tennessee on Tuesday, Oct. 11, television station WSB reported, citing the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

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The singer was driving a Jeep Cherokee when he went off the road and struck a car that was stopped on the shoulder, the station reported, citing the accident report. The other driver was not injured.

Spence grew up in Georgia. He auditioned for American Idol in 2020, and came in second place after Chayce Beckham won the competition in May 2021.

A recent post on Spence’s Instagram account said he was scheduled to perform in London on Nov. 12. Friends and fans replied to the post with condolences and tributes.

“Sweet Willie… you deserved the stars and the moon. I’m so sorry for the world to be robbed of more precious time with you. You were an absolute Angel. I know you are up there now with the rest of the angels. God rest your soul. For now I’m heartbroken,” wrote actress and former Idol contestant Katharine McPhee Foster, who returned to the show in 2021 and performed a duet with Spence.