Monday, November 28, 2022

Willie Spence’s ‘Idol’ Castmates Mourn His Death: ‘Hard to Find the Words’

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Among singer Willie Spence’s biggest fans were the very contestants he faced on 2021’s American Idol, many of whom are struggling to process the news of the singer’s tragic death on October 11, 2022. Warm tributes come from the castmates, who became friends with the gospel singer during his journey on the show, where he placed second and kick-started his promising music career.

During the 19th season of “American Idol,” which began auditions in fall 2020 and aired on ABC in spring 2021, Willie Spence of Douglas, Georgia, rose to fame as the unassuming, quiet, but powerful gospel singer the judges have been hitting week after week blown away.

The singer took second place in the competition, just behind country singer Chayce Beckham, who confessed his love for Spence just before the season’s final results and said they would be friends forever. On Oct. 12, as Beckham was trying to process the news of Spence’s fatal car accident, he posted an emotional tribute to his friend and castmate on Instagram.

“Hard to find words here except that I loved Willie dearly,” Beckham wrote, sharing a video of Spence performing. “He was a good, sweet soul and a ray of warm light in a cold and dark world that needed him so much. When Willie sang, I swear it would rock a whole room. I think Willie had a voice that God gave him specifically to carry His message, when Willie sang gospel it could make you cry.”

Beckham continued, “Willie also had a laugh that could melt you, an honest sense of humor you just had to love, and the biggest heart imaginable, all wrapped up in one human being. His larger than life energy was contagious and I loved being around him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and fans, who I know he loved so much and held in his heart. I can’t wait to sing with you in paradise knowing I’ll see you again. Rest in peace brother.”

Singer Kya Moneé, who performed a duet of the song “Stay” with Spence during Hollywood Week that got all three judges on their feet, was devastated by the news and shared on Instagram that Spence had recently encouraged her to be in her music to continue career.

Alongside posting several heartbroken emojis, she wrote: “I’m not strong enough for this. We were just talking about me taking advantage of my dream and just doing it… man I can’t I love you @williespenceofficial.

Alyssa Wray, who was scheduled to perform with Spence in New York City on October 18, shared an emotional tribute, saying she was ill over his death.

Wray also posted a home video of Spence singing the gospel classic “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” and wrote in the comments that they were at “Idol” castmate Anilee List’s house while another castmate, Deshawn Goncalves, played the piano .

“I remember we were all at Anilee’s house, jamming and singing our hearts out,” Wray wrote. “When Willie started singing, you listened. you leaned forward This is a gift. Thank you Jesus for this gift.”

Season 19’s Grace Kinstler, who became close to Spence on the show and performed a duet with him on the 2022 “Idol” reunion show, posted two photos of them together, including a Polaroid of the duo sitting on a couch , and wrote a heartfelt note to him.

She wrote: “Willie, I’m sorry I don’t have more eloquent words for you at the moment. It doesn’t feel real. Thank you for your heart and thank you for reminding us all that there is nothing more refreshing than being authentic and always keeping it 100%. I will miss your laugh, the face you make when you don’t like something or you are uncomfortable and most of all the smile you put on the faces and hearts of everyone around you as soon as you walk into a room. Rest in peace, love you very much friend.”

Casey Bishop, who made the top 4 of season 19, also shared a photo of her with Spence and wrote a heartbreaking post about it.

“This is so heartbreaking and unreal,” she wrote. “I don’t understand why this happened, it’s just hard not to think ‘why’ to myself… Willie was so kind, gentle, hilarious, generous, incredibly talented and loved by so many. His energy was so beautiful and contagious and when you met him you loved him. I love you so much Willie, so many people do.”

Bishop continued: “My brain really doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that you are no longer here on this earth. I know you are in heaven now, but it’s hard to imagine that I will never see you or speak to you again in this life. You are so special, I have never met anyone like you and I will forever be grateful that I was able to form a wonderful bond with you. Words cannot describe the feeling this brings me. We will miss you so much… You are one of a kind Willie… Rest in peace my friend.”

The grief over Spence’s death extends well beyond his season 19 castmates. They say Spence had such a sweet personality and musical talent that he was known and loved by contestants from throughout the show’s 20-year history.

One of those people was Season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee Foster, who mentored and performed a duet of The Prayer with Spence during his season on Idol. The heartbroken singer and actress was one of the first people to take to social media to speak out about the accident. Late on October 11, she posted on her Instagram Stories that she had just received news of Spence’s death.

“I received very tragic news tonight,” she wrote. “cute @williespenceofficial died in a car crash. Only 23 years old. Life is so unfair and nothing is ever promised. God rest your soul, Willie. It was a pleasure singing with you and knowing you.”

When the American Idol Instagram account confirmed Spence’s death with a tribute post, many previous contestants commented on their grief and their interactions with Spence.

Alyssa Raghu from seasons 16 and 17 wrote: “Incredible voice, incredible person. Send love forever.”

Season 16 winner Maddie Poppe wrote: “Absolutely heartbreaking. R.I.P. Willie Spence”

American Idol casting producer and warm-up host Josh Randall also posted an emotional tribute, referencing Spence’s Instagram profile.

He wrote: “Willie’s profile said ‘star in the making’ but you shone brighter than you’ll ever know. I looked up at the sky last night and thought of you shining down. You were humble, compassionate, and kind, and I’ll never understand why, but I guess heaven needed an angel. I’ve never heard a voice like yours, but behind the voice was a humble boy who never knew he was already a star. Whenever I look up at the stars I will think of you. Gone too soon but never forgotten”

Kris Pooley, musical director of both the show and Katy Perry, shared a video of Spence performing on the ‘Idol’ stage and wrote, “Thanks Willie for sharing your gift with all of us. God rest your soul.”

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