Georgia-raised American Idol star Willie Spence killed in car accident at 23

MARION COUNTY, Tenn. — Georgia-raised American Idol runner-up Willie Spence was killed in a car accident in Tennessee on Tuesday, Channel 2 Action News can confirm.

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Spence was 23.

The crash happened around 4 p.m. on I-24 east near Chattanooga, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Channel 2 Action News first reported Spence’s death on Channel 2 Action News at Noon.


Spence was driving a Jeep Cherokee when he went off the road and crashed into a car that was stopped on the shoulder, according to the accident report. That driver, identified as 68-year-old Raymond Kresl, was not injured.

Spence was the runner-up on American Idol season 19 in 2021. He auditioned by performing Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” a performance that was met with awe from Idol judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.

Richie called Spence an “unbelievable” talent and said he didn’t want the singer’s performance to end.

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

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Just hours before his death, Spence posted a video on Instagram of him singing a worship song called “You Are My Hiding Place.”

Tributes poured in on social media remembering Spence.

American Idol posted a statement to Instagram, writing:

“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.”

Spence’s cousin posted a tribute on Facebook.

“To my lil’ cousin who was here a short while but made the biggest impact on people with his Beautiful smile, heart and your anointed voice. Yes “M " Willie Spence we all know you were here because you impact us all. An angel on Earth returned home take you rest beloved you will be deeply missed and always remembered , your music will live forever. Please pray for our family. To my cousins Sharon and Willie my aunt Ella. The Diamond in the sky has gone Home to his eternal rest. Our memories live on.”