Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan Tear Up at 'Idol' Contestant's Tribute to Willie Spence
American Idol contestant Kya Monée made an instant, emotional impression on the judges with a powerful tribute to late contestant Willie Spence on Sunday's episode.
Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan were brought to tears by the audition honoring the late Georgia singer, who placed second during the singing competition series' 2021 season. Spence was killed in a Tennessee car crash in October 2022. He was 23.
Spence was the runner-up on season 19 of Idol, after winner Chayce Beckham. The late vocalist wowed the judges immediately when he auditioned with "Diamonds" by Rihanna.
Monée, a close friend of Spence's, who she previously performed a duet of Rihanna and Mikky Ekko's "Stay" with him during Hollywood Week in 2021, told the trio on Sunday, "Losing Willie was just very, very hard for me."
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She continued, "Willie, he always told me, 'No matter what, you'll always be a singer.' But three days before he passed, Willie was telling me, 'You have to go back. You have to chase your dream. I'm going to go with you to American Idol.' He made me want to do it, and I'd really love to make it further. But most of all, I want to make Willie proud."
Monée then explained that she and Spence picked her 2023 audition song together. "I'm singing 'I'm Here' from The Color Purple," she said.
After her audition, during which she took a few pauses to hold back her emotions, Monée received a standing ovation from the teary-eyed judges, who could be heard sniffling amid their praise.
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Eric McCandless via Getty Willie Spence
"What you've given us was everything we've been trying to tell all of these kids," Richie said after getting out of his seat to hug Monée. "That performance was so emotional, so heartfelt, so divinely guided in the glorious name of our dear brother Willie."
Bryan agreed, saying of the moment, "I've lost some people in my life. When you go to sing, you just sing like Willie's still here."
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Perry then concurred with her fellow judges' high praise of the audition.
"It was on another level," she said. "It was so connected to the pain, and everybody's feeling this loss. But we also feel connected together because you are authentic — just like he was."
Following the judges' comments, they advanced Monée to the next round with a ticket to Hollywood.