Singer Willie Spence Dead at 23: Ryan Seacrest and "Devastated" American Idol Family Pay Tribute

After learning of the death of Willie Spence, who was the runner-up on season 19 of American Idol, several of the show's stars, including Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, honored him.

By Elyse Dupre Oct 12, 2022 8:11 PMTags
Watch: American Idol Runner-Up Willie Spence Dead at 23

American Idol's stars are paying tribute to late contestant Willie Spence.

Following the season 19 runner-up's death on Oct. 11, the singing competition and several of its alums took to social media to honor him.

The show's official Instagram mourned Spence's death by sharing a video from his audition, where he performed a rendition of Rihanna's "Diamonds" and received high praise from judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan

"We are devastated about the passing of our beloved American Idol family member, Willie Spence," the Oct. 12 post 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."

Perry was among those grieving Spence's passing in the comments of American Idol's post. "I love you Willie… purest soul," she wrote. "Sing with the angels my darling."

Re-sharing the audition footage to his Instagram Stories, host Ryan Seacrest looked back at his memories of Spence. "Everybody on and off set loved him," he recalled. "@williespenceofficial you'll be deeply missed."

Bryan did the same. "Willie really did light up every room he walked into," the country singer wrote in a separate post. "He could change the mood instantly when he started singing. He will truly be missed."

American Idol: Where Are They Now?

Several of Spence's fellow contestants from season 19 also shared messages—including winner Chayce Beckham who wrote on Instagram Stories, "Love you brother. Rest in peace king." 

Eric McCandless via Getty Images

Top 10 finalist Alyssa Wray expressed her heartache in a moving post dedicated to the late singer.

"To know you was to love you," she wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of herself with Spence. "Willie loved music. Willie loved his family. Willie loved his friends. Willie loved to laugh. Willie loved the Lord. And we all loved Willie. The whole WORLD loved Willie, quite literally. He was a soul that people were drawn to. He had a voice that was hand made and hand picked by God himself and bestowed on him to touch lives. Anointed. Willie touched hearts. With his voice. With his smile. I can hear him laugh right now."

Wray added, "I'm so heartbroken. I'm sick to my stomach. I'm shocked. Still not sure my mind is fully processing this. I love you brother. The memories we have together are some of the best memories I have in this life and I will cherish them forever. I will hold you in my heart forever. You taught me so much. Your voice. That voice. Your kindness. Your love. By the grace of God, I sing for you forever now Willie."

Contestants from other seasons sent condolences too. "Such a sweet guy. So sad," season seven winner David Cook tweeted. "RIP Willie. Thoughts are with his friends and family."

Katharine McPhee, who was the runner-up on season five of American Idol in 2006 and returned as a mentor on season 19 in 2021, shared news of Spence's passing.

"I received very tragic news tonight," she wrote on Instagram Stories Oct. 11. "Sweet @williespenceofficial passed away in a car accident. Only 23 years old."

According to a Tennessee Highway Patrol report obtained by E! News, Spence died after his vehicle collided with a tractor trailer in Marion County.

"Life is so unfair and nothing is ever promised," McPhee continued. "God rest your soul Willie. It was a pleasure to sing with you and to know you."

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