The Palm Beach County native was traveling from a college homecoming event in Tennessee, a family spokesperson said.
By Julius Whigham II, Palm Beach Post
Willie Spence, who rose to fame as a contestant on TV’s “American Idol,” was killed Tuesday in a traffic crash in Tennessee, a spokesperson speaking on behalf of his family told The Palm Beach Post on Wednesday.
Spence was traveling from a homecoming event at a Tennessee college when his vehicle collided with a semi-truck.
“All I can say is this is like a bad dream,” Willie Spence Sr. said Wednesday afternoon during a news conference in Riviera Beach. “I can’t explain how I feel. All I know is I (will) miss him.”
According to a published report from ABC affiliate WGXA-TV in Macon, Ga., the crash occurred at about 4 p.m. Tuesday on eastbound Interstate 24 in Jasper, Tenn., a community in Marion County outside Chattanooga.
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A preliminary accident report indicated the crash happened at Mile Marker 147 when Spence’s Jeep left the roadway and crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer that was stopped on the shoulder of the roadway, WGXA reported.
Spence was taken to a hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
A message left Wednesday morning with the Tennessee Highway Patrol was not immediately returned.
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Spence grew up in Douglas, Georgia, about 125 miles northwest of Jacksonville, but he was born in Palm Beach County and still had family living in Riviera Beach.
He first sang in public when he was 5 or 6 years old at Provident Missionary Baptist Church in Boynton Beach, where his grandfather was a pastor for nearly 40 years. At the time, he aspired to be a drummer. The way people reacted to his performance led him to shift his perspective
“Ever since, I’ve been singing,” Spence told The Palm Beach Post in May 2021, “all day, all night.”
Singing took him to “American Idol,” where he sang hits such as “Georgia on my Mind” by Ray Charles, “Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke and “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo. He also sang a duet with Leona Lewis, performing her song “You Are The Reason.”
He finished second to Chayce Beckham in May 2021. He took his finish gracefully, smiling and even rocking Beckham with a hug.
His family and friends watched from Riviera Beach Marina Village Bicentennial Park, complete with a band, smiling Spence faces on signs and shirts.
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Spence remained a figure in Palm Beach County even after his season on “American Idol.” He sang in June at a forum on raising successful Black men at Redemptive Life Academy in West Palm Beach, a school he’d attended as a youth. This past August, he performed during a “Souls to the Polls” primary election vote drive