Who won ‘American Idol’ season 19?

Willie Spence performing during the season finale of "American Idol" on Sunday, May 23, 2021. (ABC/Eric McCandless)
Willie Spence performing during the season finale of "American Idol" on Sunday, May 23, 2021. (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Was Atlanta singer Willie Spence able to take the crown?

California singer-songwriter Chayce Beckham defeated Georgian Willie Spence for the “American Idol” crown Sunday night, the 19th edition of the enduring show.

This season featured oodles of great vocal talent and a few quixotic departures, plus a controversial “comeback” contest. (Last year’s runner-up Arthur Gunn was voted back onto the show but was quickly voted back off, thank goodness.)

Spence ― a 21-year-old who grew up in South Georgia and a recent Atlanta resident — battled his own confidence demons to make it this far. He consistently performed gloriously grandiose versions of songs by the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé and Elton John. He showed superb vocal control and emotional power. He finished the night reprising Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up.”

“I know you have everything inside of you and you’ve been pulling it out of you,” said judge Katy Perry. “Thank you very much for blessing us, for saving us, for lifting us and leading us to the light.”

Chayce Beckham won "American Idol" season 19. (ABC/Eric McCandless)
Chayce Beckham won "American Idol" season 19. (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

Beckham was easily the most commercial of the three finalists, a Southern rock style that could translate most easily onto the radio, possibly going the route of country, which has been friendliest to “Idol” alums over the years. A blue-collar worker in the Springsteen vein, he also had a moving story of alcoholism and becoming sober.

“I came in a broken man,” he told mentor Bobby Bones during the episode. “I came out just a little more healed.”

He also fits very much in the vein of past winners like David Cook and Phillip Phillips. His winning song “23” is an autobiographical tune he penned himself.

Both Spence and third-place finisher Grace Kinstler, 20, from the Chicago area, possess much bigger voices than Beckham. Kinstler was more of a torch singer along the lines of Celine Dion. Spence was a more spiritual version of Ruben Studdard.

During his hometown visit to Douglas last Tuesday, Spence got plenty of fan support. He visited South Georgia College, where he recorded the viral video of “Diamonds” from 2017 that went crazy popular. He stopped by his home and hugged his mom, Sharon, who cried as they held each other a long time.

He hadn’t been to Douglas in many months. “I’m so glad Willie is back,” she said. Spence told his family that he’s glad he was able to make everyone proud and they sang together. His dad, Willie Sr., said: “I’m so glad he’s fulfilling his dream.” He held a concert at Jardine Stadium with what appeared to be several hundred people.

Spence said he almost died last year after having chest pains and fluid in his lungs. The doctors told him to lose weight and he has shed more than 200 pounds since then.

One moment to show that the vaccines really have made a difference, “Idol” broke the “no touch” rule midway through the finale as Ryan Seacrest, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan had a group hug. Katy looked stupefied like she’s never been touched before.

Another nice moment was the producers bringing back nearly blind street performer Murphy to perform a solo. He should have made it further.

Judge picks

Grace Kinstler (”All By Myself,” Celine Dion version) - She felt off at first but by the time she hit the chorus, she found her rhythm. She can hit big notes easily and with emotion. It’s a great display of her vocal prowess.

Judges: Katy Perry: “You have this vulnerability and power to connect. I felt you.” Luke Bryan said she took it to a new level even beyond Celine.

Grade: A-minus/A

Willie Spence (”Georgia On My Mind,” Ray Charles) - He puts a lot of Spence-like vibrato into this ode to his state of residence. He has such a strong voice and makes it look easy. He is definitely over his confidence issues.

Judges: Luke said he could smell magnolias and peaches. “You have delivered since the audition every single time. I can see you doing it the rest of your life.” Lionel Richie said he’s a “religious experience.” Katy: “Hallelujah! I needed my hanky!”

Grade: A-minus

Chayce Beckham (”Blackbird,” The Beatles) - Good use of his rasp. His engaging personality shined through.

Judges: Lionel liked the way he ended the classic song with more drama than originally intended. Katy likes how this song is small but mighty, like Chayce’s style. Luke wants to go bass fishing with him.

Grade: A/A-minus

Hometown songs

Grace (”I Have Nothing,” Whitney Houston) - This song has been sung 10 previous times on the show and should be on the “no fly list.” But Grace is so good, she manages to transcend the triteness of the tune and give it an extra oomph that blows away any previous version to date. (Sorry, Jennifer Hudson!)

Judges’ praise is over the top, which is par for the course at this stage of the game.

Grade: A

Willie (”A Change is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke) - Willie is super old school in his style so why not go back 57 years with this civil rights-era gem, which has also been sung many times on the show, including Adam Lambert in 2009. And Willie hits it out of the park.

Judges note how inspirational his hometown visit was.

Grade: A

Chayce (”Fire Away,” Chris Stapleton”) - He is clearly inspired by Stapleton stylistically and this is a big anthemic tune for him to generate some votes.

Judges: Lionel said it was a great song pick. Katy said his life is about to change. Luke said he has opened up so much since the audition.

Grade: A-minus

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