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'American Idol' runner-up Willie Spence dies at 23 after car crash

Spence finished as runner-up to Chayce Beckham in the show’s 19th season, which aired last year.
Willie Spence performs on "American Idol" in 2021.
Willie Spence performs on "American Idol" in 2021.Eric McCandless / ABC via Getty Images

Former "American Idol" runner-up Willie Spence died after a car accident Tuesday, authorities said.

Spence, 23, finished as runner-up to Chayce Beckham in the show's 19th season, which aired last year.

The crash occurred around 4 p.m. Tuesday in Marion County in East Tennessee, when Spence's 2019 Jeep Cherokee "left the roadway" and collided with the back of a tractor-trailer that was stopped on the shoulder of the east side of Interstate 24, at the 147-mile marker, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Marion County medical examiner said in a preliminary report.

Both Spence, who is originally from Georgia, and the driver of the tractor-trailer, who is 68, were wearing seat belts, according to the report.

A spokesperson said the Highway Patrol is investigating why Spence's car veered off the road.

Marion County Medical Examiner Barbara O'Neal said that the cause of death was "multisystem trauma due to motor vehicle accident" and that Spence was pronounced dead at the scene.

Just hours before the crash, Spence posted a video of himself singing "You Are My Hiding Place" on his Instagram page.

Katharine McPhee Foster, who finished as the runner-up on season five of "Idol" and performed a duet with Spence on season 19, posted news of the death to her Instagram story.

"Life is so unfair and nothing is ever promised," she wrote. "God rest your soul Willie. It was a pleasure to sing with you and to know you."

Spence's "Idol" journey began with a performance of Rihanna's "Diamonds" during his audition for judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. The performance ended with Richie giving him a standing ovation and calling him an "undeniable star" before the judges sent him to Hollywood.

"I just want my voice to reach the world and just share my gift — hopefully winning a Grammy one day, that's where I see myself in five years," Spence told the judges at the audition. "It's gonna take hard work, but I feel like I can do it."

"That Grammy is attainable, no doubt in my mind," Bryan told him.

Spence planned to perform at a show in London next month, according to a post on his Instagram account.