'American Idol' season 19 runner-up Willie Spence killed in car accident

The 23-year-old died Tuesday after hitting the rear of a tractor-trailer that was stopped on the shoulder on a highway.

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Thursday, October 13, 2022
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Willie Spence, the "American Idol" season 19 second-place finalist, has died in a car crash in Tennessee. He was 23 years old.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Willie Spence, the "American Idol" season 19 runner-up, has died in a vehicle crash in Tennessee.

The 23-year-old was killed Tuesday after hitting the rear of a tractor-trailer that was stopped on the shoulder of Interstate 24 East near Chattanooga, a Tennessee Highway Patrol report.

Both drivers were wearing seatbelts, and the truck driver wasn't injured, the crash report said.

Singer Willie Spence is seen during the 102nd 6abc Dunkin' Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 25, 2021, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

Spence finished in second place on "American Idol" in the spring of 2021.

"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 competition show posted on its social accounts.

Then 21, Spence earned several standing ovations from the judges over the course of the season for his signature booming voice.

"You just have the magic, buddy," Luke Bryan told him after one performance.

He grew up in Douglas, Georgia, and learned how to sing at his grandfather's church in Florida at age 6.

On "Idol," Spence shared some of his struggles with his health -- he'd been hospitalized in March 2020 and had lost over 180 pounds before competing.

Spence faced off against winner Chayce Beckham and third-place finalist Grace Kinstler in the season 19 finale.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.