Spence was driving from Tennessee to his home in Atlanta when he crashed into a semi-truck that was parked on the side of the road.
A post on the “American Idol” Instagram reads, “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 post features a video of Spence singing Rihanna’s “Diamonds” from his “American Idol” audition. Judges Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan praised Spence’s performance, with Bryan saying, “You are a special, special human being. I did not want it to end.”
Ritchie said the performance was “unbelievable” and called Spence an “undeniable star,” singling out his phrasing and expression. When Perry asked where he sees himself in five years, Spence said he hopes to share his gift with the world and hopefully win a Grammy.
Spence wooed “American Idol” viewers with his renditions of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” made famous by Ray Charles. He finished in second place behind winner Chayce Beckham.
Season 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee honored Spence on her Instagram story, writing, “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.” Spence and McPhee performed a duet during his time on Season 19.