Atlanta’s Willie Spence on making top 24 on ‘American Idol’

The top 16 will be named Sunday; the top 12 on Monday
Willie Spence of Georgia performing "Wind Beneath My Wings" during the April 4, 2021 episode of "American Idol." (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Willie Spence of Georgia performing "Wind Beneath My Wings" during the April 4, 2021 episode of "American Idol." (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Willie Spence is the only Georgian in the top 24 of “American Idol” this season.

America has already voted, and he will find out his fate on Sunday when the pool of contestants is trimmed to 16. (It was actually pre-taped, and MJ’s Big Blog has the spoiler top 16 if you want to check it out here. I’m happy I got six out of eight correct among those who were eliminated.)

Willie is part of the crew of big voices which includes Alyssa Wray and Grace Kinstler, who are two of his close friends. His song choices to date show a particular predilection toward divas. He said in an interview Friday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that we will likely hear him sing Adele come Sunday.

“I feel the emotion and the power in these types of songs,” he said. “They’re all powerhouse vocalists. That’s what I’m drawn to.”

After being seriously hospitalized last year, he said he realized he needed to get healthier and has since shed more than 200 pounds and is now below 400.

Willie Spence

Age: 21

Grew up in: Douglas, Georgia

Current residence: Atlanta since last September. “This is like second Hollywood to me,” he said.

How he broke through: A video of him singing “Diamonds” by Rihanna went viral. He decided to go to Los Angeles to become a star, but his mom got sick with cancer. He returned home to take care of her. She is better now. “God has given me a second chance,” he said. “I am here for a purpose.”

His first audition: “Diamonds.” “I can’t forget the song that got me here,” he said. The judges were duly taken by Spence’s humility and emotive voice. “I just soaked in the moment,” he said. “It was like a dream!”

His first Hollywood performance: “All of You” John Legend

His Showstopper performance: “I Was Here” by Beyoncé.

His solo (”Wind Beneath My Wings”) and duet top 24 performance with Katharine McPhee (“The Power”) “It was incredible. It was amazing. It felt surreal to be on stage with her. I loved every minute of it. She just had a baby, and she could still blow like that. Amazing! David Foster, her husband, wrote that song, so there was that extra pressure. But for me, extra pressure is not bad. When I feel pressure, I think of my family, and that motivates me.”

Prepping for the next round: “I’ve been eating right. I make sure my voice is feeling good. I go walking when I have time. But I feel like the most important thing for me to do is rest.”

His wardrobe: A friend from Nashville Mark Nelson sent him some great suits, which is why he is looking so sharp. And “Idol” has tailors to make them look even better.

Best advice from the judges: “Don’t forget about the emotions in the song. Don’t forget to tell a story. It’s about song choices, too.”

Pandemic downside: Not have friends and family nearby. “I miss them very much. I have my moments. I have my days. We talk and Facetime. That lifts my spirit and keeps me going.”

Another Georgian made it to Hollywood but failed to make it to the top 24:

Xavier Washington

Age: 22

Graduated: Miller Grove High School, Lithonia

Growing up: Only sang in church. He played several instruments in high school and was a drum major

What he does: Senior at Yale University as an African-American studies major

While there: Je joined an a cappella group, Shades of Yale, which sang songs from the African diaspora for two years, then Yale Glee Club junior year and performed a spring fling concert solo. He took a gap year and toured with the Whiffenpoofs until the pandemic cut them short.

First audition song: “Wanted” by Hunter Hayes (Only a portion of his audition is shown.)

Why? “That is one of my favorite songs of all time. I try to pride myself on being really well versed musically and knowing a lot of genres and artists. I wanted to be memorable, and I think the judges really liked it.”

Judges’ critique: Luke Bryan wanted to “unYale” him and have him become more of a solo artist, as opposed to part of a group. “My big struggle as an artist is getting out of my own head,” Xavier said.

His first Hollywood performance: “Gravity” by John Mayer

His future: While he is pondering grad school or law school, “I know I want to do music in whatever capacity even if ‘Idol’ is not my breakthrough moment. I still want to be a performer and still pursue my dreams as an artist.” He’s open to finding a job behind the scenes in music as well just to learn the business.

What happened to him in Hollywood: He was cut either during the duet round or the showstopper round. “Idol” didn’t address him again.