‘Idol’ judges cry over auditions honoring Willie Spence
The first batch of “American Idol” season 21 contestants to earn Hollywood tickets during the February 19, 2023 premiere included a familiar face to many fans of the show. Soulful singer Kya Moneé, who competed on “Idol” in 2021, returned to audition again after promising season 19 runner-up Willie Spence that she would. The two met on the show that season, but Spence tragically died in a car crash weeks before Moneé’s audition, leading to a heartbreaking performance, including some rewritten lyrics by Moneé that brought the judges to tears.
Moneé and Spence became fast friends when they both auditioned for season 19 of “Idol” and got together for a Hollywood Week duet. your powerful Performance of Rihanna’s “Stay” brought judge Katy Perry to tears at the time and the judges both promoted them to the next round.
“It became a very, very close friendship from there,” she said during Sunday’s season premiere.
Although Moneé was eliminated in season 19 just before the judges narrowed the competition down to the top 24, Spence placed second on the show, popular as a gentle giant with a silky smooth and powerful voice. The two remained close, she told judges during the premiere, revealing that Spence was so adamant about trying again for Idol that he promised to accompany her to the audition. Monee’, 21, pushed through her grief to appear despite his recent death and gave a tearful performance that deeply touched the judges.
Kya Moneé changes lyrics to pay tribute to Willie Spence
“Losing Willie was just really, really hard for me,” Moneé said during the season 21 premiere, when a montage of photos of the two together was shown. “He died in a tragic car accident and I’m still trying to come to terms with it. Willie, he always told me, ‘No matter what happens, you’re always going to be a singer.'”
According to a police report obtained by Heavy, Spence died in a two-vehicle accident on Oct. 11, 2022, when his 2019 Jeep went off the road and crashed into a semi-truck in Tennessee. His death rocked the “Idol” community as in-person auditions for season 21 began in Nashville, Las Vegas and New Orleans.
Moneé recalls, “Three days before he died, Willie said to me, ‘You have to go back (to the audition). You have to chase your dreams. I’ll go to American Idol with you.”
He made me want to do it,” she continued. “And I’d really like to continue, but most of all I want to make Willie proud.”
As she stood in front of the judges – Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan – before her audition, she reminded them of who she was and her connection to Spence.
“I want to thank you all so much for putting me together with him,” she told them. “He was supposed to be here with me for my audition today. It’s just really hard not to have that support anymore. But I know he wanted me to be here. This song I’m singing today is a song we chose together.”
Moneé continued to sing “I’m Here” from the Broadway musical The Color Purple, but changed the lyrics slightly to show how she’s moving through her grief. The lyrics are usually: to Smule: “I have my sister / I can feel her now / She may not be here but she is still mine / I know she still loves me.”
But when Moneé performed it, she began singing her own lyrics, which immediately brought the jury to tears. She sang, “I have my angels / I can’t hold them now / They may not be here but they are still mine / And I hope they know how much I love them.”
Judges emotionally bring Kya Moneé to Hollywood Week
After her performance, Richie wiped her eyes with a handkerchief and cleared her throat, walked over to Moneé to give her a separate one for her own tears and hugged her.
Then he said: “What you gave us was all we tried to say to these children; this performance was so emotional, so heartfelt, so divinely directed. In the glorious name of our dear brother Willie, you made props. Thanks a lot for this.”
Perry told Moneé her delivery “was on another level,” adding that “everyone feels that loss, but we also feel connected to one another because you were authentic, just like him.”
“Thank you for honoring our friend, your friend, and keeping the candle burning,” Perry told her as she picked up her gold ticket. Then she yelled into the air, “We love you, Willie!”
After the premiere of “Idol” aired, Moneé posted a GIF of herself on Instagram, happily holding her golden ticket. She was referring to both Spence and a best friend who died around the same time as her inspirations.
Moneé wrote: “I got my GOLDEN TICKET AGAIN AND don’t forget I got it singing while I was crying. I did this for my best friend and @williespenceofficial, without you 2 I wouldn’t even have gone back…thanks to my supporters WE’RE GOING TO HOLLYWOOD”
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